Learn To Innovate
The Innovator’s DNA

Learn To Innovate

Offering revelatory examples of disruptive innovators, innovation gurus Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and the late Clayton M. Christensen detail their methods to show how you can learn to innovate.

If you want to innovate more successfully, you can turn with confidence to Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and the late Clayton M. Christensen. Innovation gurus all, the authors studied contemporary innovators and synthesized their findings in this handbook. They examine how some of the world’s great, disruptive innovators, such Apple’s Steve Jobs and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, came up with groundbreaking ideas. They don’t promise that innovation automatically leads to success, but the practices they recommend consistently align with commercial achievement.

Highly innovative companies live by a set of key innovation philosophies that instill a deep, company-wide commitment to innovation.Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton M. Christensen

You may wonder if innovation and creativity really are learnable skills – or only traits worth emulating and encouraging. Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen insist you can improve and sustain your ability to innovate, and they tell you exactly how to go about it.

Learned Skills

Innovation and creativity aren’t birthrights. They are learned skills. You generate innovation by your actions, and you can learn to be more creative by focusing your time and efforts on innovation. The authors caution that start-ups may require more innovative thinking than mature firms might need. In established organizations, leaders may prefer the reliable delivery of known goods to the discovery of new ones, but innovation remains relevant to corporate growth at any stage.

Associative Skills

Innovators need five “discovery skills”: “associating, questioning, observing, networking” and “experimenting.” For example, innovators use associative skills to draw connections that link together concepts from disparate disciplines or cultures.

Innovative ideas flourish at the intersection of diverse experience, whether it be others’ or our own.Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton M. Christensen

Consider the varied experiences of Indra Nooyi, chair and CEO of PepsiCo. She studied math, physics and chemistry as an undergraduate and earned an MBA in public and private management. She worked in the textile, consulting and energy industries. The authors point to her diverse résumé as the perfect foundation for an innovative mind-set.

Why Not?

Innovators question. They challenge conventional wisdom and ask why and why-not questions: Why can’t we do this differently? Why isn’t this feature available? And, why has no one tried this before? The authors say you should never fret about looking foolish. If you don’t know something, ask. Relish discovery.


Innovators watch carefully, pose questions and study how people solve problems. For instance, seeing a family riding a scooter in the rain inspired Ratan Tata, chairman of India’s Tata Group, to manufacture a groundbreaking, inexpensive car. Tata extended its automotive operations to include financing, insurance and driving instructions to meet the demands of its target audience.

Innovators network to learn new information, draw lessons from other fields and reach new markets. They consider how different disciplines solve problems and borrow from an array of solutions.


Innovators regard the world as their laboratory. In 1994, Jeff Bezos considered the internet’s surging 2,300% annual growth. He asked what businesses could best exploit this explosive commercial potential.

Innovators sometimes practice ‘forced associating’ or combining things that we would never naturally combine. Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton M. Christensen

Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen explain with their usual clarity that innovators use open-ended testing to explore what they can learn.

People, Processes and Philosophies

Corporate executives should provide a model of creative, “discovery-driven” behavior and, to that end, should also hire like-minded people. Innovative firms assemble teams with “complementary discovery skills” – for example, they pair an insightful observer with a talented experimenter.

The authors suggest a “3P framework” of people, processes and philosophies, in which each element supports and shapes the others in the quest for innovation. First, innovative organizations need to develop and follow discovery processes, which often start with the leader’s behavior. Steve Jobs, for example, repeatedly asked why and what-if questions.

Secondly, innovative organizations seek people who have developed new discoveries and are eager to keep innovating. Virgin and Google explicitly recruit people who think differently; they require job applicants to display their creativity. Innovative organizations extend their discovery processes to an institutional level. For example, Google and Procter & Gamble swapped staff members for a few weeks so their people experienced different corporate processes.

Highly innovative companies live by a set of key innovation philosophies that instill a deep, company-wide commitment to innovation.Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen & Clayton M. Christensen

Third, forward-looking firms base their actions on the philosophy that “innovation is everyone’s job.” While most companies focus on incremental change, these firms invest in “disruptive innovation,” Christensen’s signature term. They set up project teams that mobilize a range of talents and training. They understand the importance of taking “smart risks” that lead to original discoveries.

Innovative firms communicate the necessity of innovation through their actions, educational campaigns, and recognition and reward systems. Innovative leaders encourage people to experiment and give staffers a “safe space” to explore their ideas. They probe for questions, praise employees for using discovery skills and provide time for people to innovate.

Discovery Skills

You may disrupt the status quo with no guarantee that you’ll get the results you want – though small wins can make a significant difference to a company. Start by assessing whether you and your staff have strong or weak discovery skills. Develop your creative abilities by helping others develop theirs.

Actionable Pragmatism

Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen – calling on their combined decades of experience, teaching and strategizing innovation – observed closely, wrote clearly and offered pragmatic insights. They are somewhat gung-ho on innovation for its own sake, though, so readers might remind themselves that disruptive innovations rarely work as planed. However, their astute analysis and guidance will help you become more innovative, help business leaders revitalize their companies, and inspire trainers, mentors, coaches and teachers who want to think more creatively.

Jeff Dyer co-wrote The Innovator’s Method with Nathan FurrHoward Gregersen also wrote Questions Are the Answer. And the late Clayton M. Christensen, often seen as the guru of disruptive innovation, was also the author of The Innovator’s Dilemma; The Innovator’s Solution; Competing Against Luck; and How Will You Measure Your Life?

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