The Innovator’s DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregerson, Clayton M ChristensenThis highly interesting and useful book has as its genesis two previously successful books and a myriad of interviews with, and studies of, well known and under the radar CEOs, companies, and innovators. The authors interviewed nearly one hundred prominent names and over five thousand less famous but nevertheless skillful innovators from over seventy-five countries.

The Innovator’s DNA looks historically and behaviorally at innovation and creativity, “the lifeblood of our global economy and a strategic priority for virtually every CEO around the world.” The last of a triumvirate of books by Clayton Christensen on innovation – The Innovator’s Dilemma and The Innovator’s Solution precede it – these books describe and analyse the “characteristics of disruptive technologies, business models, and companies,” as well as CEOs in terms of their capacity for innovation and explains how you could develop the same skills.

The book is not preachy, just realistic. We all know the Aristotle quote, “we are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” This is true.  Some of the greatest artists and writers did not necessarily start out great, or profoundly creative, or skillful; they worked at it, adopted new habits, practiced. The authors espouse this notion. As they write, “…one’s ability to generate innovative ideas is not merely a function of the mind, but also a function of behaviours.”

What are the sorts of cognitive and behavioural habits innovative entrepreneurs exhibit? From their interviews with nearly a hundred inventors, founders, and CEOs (think Jeff Bezos, Gary Crocker, Orit Gadiesh) and their examination of figures like Richard Branson and Steve Jobs, the authors uncovered various skills at the heart of creative thinking. Some of these are:

  • Associational thinking – linking ideas that would not normally be aligned
  • Experimentation – trying, even after failing
  • Curiosity – question askers, observers, always looking outside the box for solutions
  • Networking – meeting and learning from diverse people

The habits of “questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting” bolster associational thinking, a trait we explored in relation to Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in an earlier HGIinSight article on ­curiosity.

A well-written book steeped in strong research and sundry real-life examples, this is one to read for any leader.