Eight questions that will make you more innovative in 2015


To be more innovative, organizations need to establish new webs of relationships and apply new processes. For people to be more innovative, they need to practice better habits. In this post are eight questions to ask.

Before buying into that, you might be asking: Can creativity (one-half of innovating, the other being go-to-market skills) really be learned?

Of course it can, and studies have shown it for a long time. (They’re not the kind of studies often shared in business meeting rooms, but they could be.)

A little psychological science

If you’re impatient, skip to the bottom for the questions. But here’s the science that says the problem with teaching creativity isn’t that people can’t learn it:

Studies of identical twins reared apart examine one elegant bit of logic, namely that if identical twins with the same heredity are reared together, they may be similar because of how they are raised. If they are raised apart, though, any differences must come from what they learn. This was the thrust of Niels Juel-Nielsen and his study of Danish identical twins raised apart.

Susan Farber refined the study on 90 sets of twins living apart (and an estimated 600 pairs living apart in the U.S. as of the early 1980s). Nature was huge, but nurture played a significant role. Among her findings: Even IQ scores varied by 20%.

A 1973 study in Behavior Genetics by Marvin Reznikoff, George Domino, Carolyn Bridges and Merton Honeyman examined 117 pairs of twins focused solely on a battery of 10 creativity tests and one for verbal ability. The twins had a lot in common, but “overall results failed to provide convincing evidence of a genetic component in creativity,” the authors concluded.

So if people can learn it, what should they practice? Which learned behaviors helped creative businesspeople like Apple’s Steve Jobs, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, eBay’s Pierre Omidyar, and P&G’s A.G. Lafley become successful by being more creative?

That was the question behind a 2009 Harvard Business Review article by Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen called “The Innovator’s DNA.” But DNA is genetic. Creativity isn’t.

A six-year study by Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen examined the habits of 3000 executives, 500 startup founders and 25 innovative entrepreneurs. The most successfully innovative of them (had ideas, and realized ideas) spent 50% more time associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking.

Let’s be more prescriptive

That means: Connecting ideas, delving into why things are the way they are, finding (and assigning value to) everyday inconveniences by looking at how people live their lives, developing and testing hypotheses about how people will behave based on those observations, and going out of your way to ineract with people who think about the world differently than you do.

So ask these:

“What ideas (or questions) can be borrowed from other disciplines?”
“What are our biggest constraints, and what if we changed something about them? What is the opposite set of features? What is the opposite approach? What if we couldn’t do things the way we’re doing it?”
“What doesn’t make sense about how people — our customers, our suppliers, or our competitors — do things normally?”
“If we changed x, what would happen?”
“How can I expose myself to people who do things differently than me, think differently than I do, dress differently than I do, and are experts at very different things?”

To think different(ly), you have to act different(ly).

Questions like the ones above should get you into the habits that help people be more innovative.

– James Janega



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