The DNA of Innovation: Five Key Traits – and a Tip on “Flight Networking”


Want to become a better innovator every time you step onto a plane? I’ll tell you how in just a moment. First, let me mention an important new study on innovation. In a six-year research effort from INSEAD professor Hal Gregersen, Jeffrey Dyer of Brigham Young University and Clayton Christensen of Harvard, 3,500 executives were examined to determine what traits separate successful innovators from the rest. The results are published in the December issue of the Harvard Business Review. As summarized in the article “The Innovator’s DNA” at INSEAD.edu, the key attributes are:

1. Associating

This is about connecting the dots, finding unexpected applications of skills and approaches from other fields. Steve Jobs’ interest in calligraphy, for example, contributed to the graphical interface of Macs.

2. Observing

Looking at problems and opportunities with keen observational skills often leads to new solutions, new connections, and rich innovation.

3. Experimenting

Success in innovation rarely comes on the first try. Many iterations are needed. The winners learn from early efforts and keep adjusting and experimentiing to find success.

4. Questioning

The ability to question the way things are, to challenge our assumptions and to keep pressing for insight through questioning is behind many examples of innovation success.

5. Networking

We should all know how important networking is for success, but in the realm of innovation, the team of researchers found an interesting twist, according to the INSEAD article:

Typically, when we think of networking, we think of this in terms of jobs, a career or maybe social life. But when it comes to creativity, it takes on a different meaning. “Innovators are intentional about finding diverse people who are just the opposites of who they are, that they talk to, to get ideas that seriously challenge their own,” Gregersen says. Creative and innovative entrepreneurs look for people who are “completely different in terms of perspective” and regularly discuss ideas and options with them “to get divergent viewpoints.” There could be differences in gender, industry, age, country of origin, or even politics. “If I’m on the right, they’re on the left, that kind of notion. And those sorts of diverse inputs in terms of conversations enabled them to get new ideas,” he says.

Many networking efforts focus on people who are like you. They might share the same views, go to the same clubs and church, or have the same profession. That’s great, but we need to tap into new circles and new ways of thinking by deliberately reaching outside our comfort zones. This is one reason I really enjoy traveling on planes. There is a random person seated next to me on almost every flight, often with an exciting career or interesting perspectives that can stretch my knowledge–and my network. I frequently come away with a business card and a new linkage. I strive to follow up and make that connection stick. Through these efforts at “flight networking,” I have met some amazing and interesting people that have influenced several aspects of my life. Musicians, public safety officers, preachers, international non-profit leaders, biotech leaders, and others are part of my highly memorable flight networking experiences. Listen, learn, share, connect, and make those random encounters on airplanes and elsewhere contribute to who you are, what you know, and how you can change the world.

To really understand the power of networking for innovation and business success, I recommend Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi.

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InnovationFatigue.com is the official blog for the new book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue. Here we provide supplementary innovation, news, tips, updates, and, when needed, a correction or two, to keep those who are using the big on the inside edge for innovation success.