Monday, November 30, 2009

Lightning Bolt Inspiration vs. Persistent Practice & Preparation

Does innovation have to be a lightning bolt of inspiration or can it, like any other skill, be fashioned from practice, preparation, and a consistent process? Arguments can be found leaning both ways. You can read about the belief that there are those with a born "entrepreneurial spirit" or study those who claim you can condition your "ability to innovate" almost like a muscle. CNN in the Executive Education section of their website recently posted an article on this very argument. You can read the full transcript here. The article claims that researchers have discovered "the five secrets of innovation."

Coming up with brilliant, game-changing ideas is what makes the likes of Apple's Steve Jobs so successful, and now researchers say they have identified the five secrets to being a great innovator.

Professors from Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University have just completed a six-year study of more than 3,000 executives and 500 innovative entrepreneurs, that included interviews with high-profile entrepreneurs including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell, founder of Dell computers.

In an article published in December's Harvard Business Review the researchers identified five skills that separate the blue-sky innovators from the rest -- skills they labeled associating, questioning, observing, experimenting and discovering.

Researchers say they have identified five skills that drive innovation:

Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask "why?", "why not?" and "what if?"

Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.

Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.

Obviously these researchers side more towards the ability to innovate being a learned trait. I would have to agree that the ability to innovate like any other skill can be learned through hard work, practice, and dedication. However, I also acknowledge the fact some people hit the genetic lottery while others are well....not so fortunate. I think that like most things even an absent disposition can be overcome if the desire is there. I think more and more business minds are starting to lean in the direction of this line of thinking. I am currently reading Innovation and Entrepreneurship by business hall of famer Peter Drucker in which the entire premise of the book is calculated implementation of innovation and entrepreneurship. I will go into more detail of my thoughts on the book after its completion, but the one thing that really stands out is Drucker's ability to use actual stories and examples to illustrate his views and principles. Badskiblog readers are also familiar with another book I read recently by Twyla Tharp called the Creative Habit, which held a very similar view on creativity although presented in a very different manner than Drucker.

One of the men behind the study, Insead's Hal Gregersen, told CNN, "What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before."

The researchers describe this ability to connect ideas as "associating," and say it's key to innovators' ability to think outside the box. But they add that the secret to how the great innovators think is the way they act.

"The way they act is to observe actively, like an anthropologist, and they talk to incredibly diverse people with different world views, who can challenge their assumptions," Gregersen told CNN.

Because the ability to think differently comes from acting differently, Gregersen says anyone can become a better innovator, just by acting like one.

"Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired," he told CNN. "We found that it's like exercising your muscles -- if you engage in the actions you build the skills."

I love the way they describe what true innovators do...they recognize unique patterns that others don't see. I like that describe them as anthropologist-esque. Entrepreneurs seek to satisfy wants or create wants that consumers didn't know they had. Innovators ability to satisfy wants typically rests firmly upon their ability to recognize patterns amongst the most complex study known to man; the study of man. It is a very insightful and great way to look at what entrepreneurs actually do. What are you doing to hone your innovation acumen?

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