How Innovators Think


On the flight from Toronto to Seoul I had a chance to read a Harvard Business Review back issue from December 2009. In it was a great article titled: The Innovator’s DNA. The article talked about the characteristics of great innovators – how they think. It boiled down to five key skills.

  1. Associating – the ability connect seemingly unrelated questions, ideas or problems from different fields. It is about finding the intersections of different disciplines.
  2. Questioning – innovators constantly ask questions. They question the unquestionable. They ask “what-if?, “Why?”, “Why not?” They get a kick out of messing with the status quo.
  3. Observing – scrutinizing everything from common phenomena to outliers. They watch, and in doing so, question, and associate.
  4. Experimenting – innovators experiment with ideas, intellectually, and in the real world. They go see for themselves, try new things, observe the outcomes.
  5. Networking – innovators devote time and energy testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals from different disciplines and backgrounds. They go out of their way to find radical opinions. They travel, visit people of different cultures and ways of thinking.

They practice, practice, practice and over time become confident in their creative skills. Innovators are willing to take risks. They want to make a difference in the world.

These skills can be practiced by most anyone and therefore each of us can become more creative and innovative than we are today. So what will you do starting today to become more innovative? Some suggestions:

  1. Talk to someone who does something completely different than you.
  2. Read a book about food chemistry, or living in an Amish town.
  3. Take a look at your surroundings and scrutinize what you see. Why is it the way it is?
  4. Ask yourself why, why not, and what-if when you find yourself behaving in a familiar way.
  5. Visit web sites like TED and watch a talk on a topic you have no clue about. Look for connections, intersections to things you know about.
  6. Try writing with your left hand, or your right if you are left-handed. Seriously. It engages your other hemisphere.
  7. Ask someone why they do things the way they do. What isn’t working and how would they change it?
  8. Find a contrarian and debate a topic. The contrarian’s view can make you think in ways you may not have done before.
  9. Write questions about “the way I do things”. Try to ask questions to which there are no answers, yet.

Innovators are not afraid to DREAM, to take a RISK, to try something DIFFERENT, and to PUSH and PERSUADE and ENCOURAGE. Innovators are  a bit crazy and willing to withstand ridicule. So be it. The best innovations were realized when innovators were willing to ignore the status quo and focus on the POSSIBILITIES!

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