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Book Review: The Innovator's DNA
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Book Review: The Innovator's DNA by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen

The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Written by: Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press, 2011. 296+vi pages.
Reviewed by: Erik A. J. Johnson

The Innovator's DNA

This final entry in coauthor Christensen's innovation trilogy complements his influential The Innovator's Dilemma (1997) and coauthoredThe Innovator's Solution (2003) with a notably accessible style. Still resonating today, the dilemma is that businesses focusing on expertly serving current customer demand often bypass ideas that can open new markets, only to see competitors ride the next wave of innovation; the solution is for organizations to strategically seek and fund disruptive concepts, thereby embracing future growth avenues.

The Innovator's DNA holds that large public companies, which the marketplace expects to continue innovating, receive premium valuations, and that institutionalizing selected practices within a holistically inventive environment can be a pathway to similar success. Reflecting strategic demands to tap valuable human assets, the authors' learnable skills-based program comprises peopling businesses with individuals talented in five specific innovation tactics. The organization-level adoption process entails assessing existing innovation capabilities, hiring innovative people, and training current employees, enculturating frequent use of the five behaviors toward organization-wide inventiveness.

The book provides readers with a readily understood model and guidelines for helping organizations become more innovative. The authors' raison d'être—disruptive innovation—is threaded throughout the well-paced volume's two parts. Part One is comprised of an introduction and six numbered chapters that contextualize and describe behaviors to be acquired. Part Two's four numbered chapters, conclusion, and appendices inform the text's People-Process-Philosophy (3P) framework for organizational use.

The introduction sets the stage by citing a recent survey of 1500 chief executive officers or CEOs wherein creativity was named the top leadership capability of the future. The first numbered chapter introduces the authors' business idea generation concept (p. 27), whereby people associate or link various personal knowledge and environmental data to innovate. Individuals are described as deliverers of task-driven results when using four “delivery skills” and as innovators when implementing five “discovery skills” (p. 33). A short delivery/discovery self-assessment exercise caps Chapter 1 and helps traject the book's focus to the discovery behaviors that are more fully explained in the five successive chapters.

Chapter 2 asserts that how one associates or connects knowledge, and new data are the chief of five behaviors fundamental to an innovator's makeup, with several random-centered think-outside-the-box exercises included. Chapter 3 illustrates how questioning the status quo across fields has led to innovation, and that dogged question sets essentially following journalistic practice (who, what, where, when, why, how) can lead to disruptive ideas. Direct observation that intersperses alert questioning is the subject of the next chapter. Chapter 5 covers effective networking to access more data for ideation, and Chapter 6 elaborates on idea testing through mental and physical experimentation. The overall thrust of Part One, with attendant exercises and appendices, is to enlarge one's knowledge base and data access for associational thinking and innovation.

Part Two offers practical guidance on integrating the five discovery areas within organizations. Chapter 7 explains the innovation premium concept regarding how a company's future innovativeness can be monetized in its valuation. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 examine the three components of the 3P framework, respectively. First, the people piece underscores the need for expertise diversity achieved in part by intermingling innovator types with a company's technical and business experts. Second, readers are led to how organizational processes should include and combine the five discovery areas, and finally that philosophically inculcating innovativeness can yield optimal results. Notable through this second part—and the book in toto—are innovation success anecdotes from Amazon, Apple, Dell, eBay, Google, Intuit, JetBlue, Microsoft, traditional new product development (NPD) powerhouse P&G,, Starbucks, and many others. The brief concluding chapter wraps up the case for innovativeness using the authors' model.

NPD thought leaders may reflect on the book's linchpin behavior, associating, in light of think-inside-the-box constrained-resource innovation methods (Johnson, 2010). Also, fully formed versus iteratively developed innovative products—think Mozart versus Beethoven—may indicate dramatic creative style differences (Finke, Ward, and Smith, 1992); useful could be further consideration of differently creative individuals' generative, exploratory, and interpretive innovating styles' potentially disparate strategies and processes.

Taken as a whole, The Innovators' DNA serves several valuable purposes. Its executive audience can benefit from an engaging, exercise-framed window on innovative organizations' practice. NPD researchers, strategists, and practitioners can ponder a product of substantive innovation research, teaching, and experience. Yet the book's lead value could be in highlighting a question: Have advancing technology and globalization brought competitive strategy to a tipping point where organizational leaders must identify and engage all possible innovation actors and resources through assessment, hiring, training, and artful management … or risk Schumpeterian decline? If so, the book may serve as a thought-provoking call to entertain emergent NPD 3.0 challenges. In any case, this last Innovator's series release lucidly exhorts leaders and managers to consider carefully adopting, where appropriate, behaviors and thinking that champion innovativeness.

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