Three Professors from HBS, INSEAD and Brigham Young University spent years researching innovative companies and leaders and wrote the book Innovator’s DNA. They conclude there are some basic skills that differentiate business innovators like Steve Jobs from ordinary managers.

They sound pretty logical and hence un-innovative! Nevertheless, logically thinking :), it’s clear why these skills will help in being innovative!

So here’s the list. Master them and you will give yourself a good chance of being innovative.

The three profs call them the five skills of disruptive innovators:

  1. Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities; Example: the interface with computers for humans is through body organs – eye, ear and hands. Then is mouse natural? Why not gestures and voice recognition?
  2. Observing helps innovators detect small details—in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies—that suggest new ways of doing things. Example: College kids spend most time socializing but emails are not good enough then why not build a new product?
  3. Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds; Example: (If true) Aamir’s suggestion to picket MP’s residences to force an opinion on Lokpal proved a masterstroke. If not Aamir, someone in the network came up with this right!
  4. Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas; I guess this is the most intuitive one – so no examples.
  5. Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields helps to create innovative solutions. This is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas. Example: If offshoring works for IT why not for knowledge processes and core operations? The book Corporate Chanakya is another example.

There you go: The mantra to be innovative is “Questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associational thinking”

Now if you are a leader of a group that needs to innovate – here’s another framework – 3P framework for people, processes and philosophies. Fundamental change within senior managers (some mastery of the five discovery skills); changes in how their innovation project teams work (processes that support innovation); and changes in philosophies that foster the belief that innovation really is everyone’s job.