Improving your innovation skills

A new book includes some interesting observations about the personal characteristics of successful innovators — and what managers can do to strengthen their innovation skills.

What are the personal characteristics of successful innovators? In his new book The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, Scott Anthony includes an interesting observation on that topic.

Anthony reports that, according to some new research by Jeffrey Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen, most successful innovators tend to be very good at seeing connections between seemingly disparate ideas, a trait the researchers call "associational thinking."

The good news? Anthony argues that would-be innovators can strengthen their innovation skills. One way is by improving the skills that drive associational thinking, such as questioning and experimenting.

Another option Anthony suggests: Try to place yourself in "innovation schools" -- in other words, real-life settings that will give you experiences that could relate to new challenges you may face in the future.  Such activities might range from volunteering for an international project at work to using free time on nights and weekends to help a relative launch a start-up.

3 Comments On: Improving your innovation skills

  • jeffreyb | August 12, 2009

    Is not “associational thinking” a creative thinking trait rather than an innovation trait?

    Idea generation in and of itself is a creative thinking activity. The implementation of those ideas, in order to generate value, is what innovation is about.

    In most companies, as a result, innovation needs to be a collaborative effort as creative ideas (from associational thinking, we would like to think) require various individuals to turn them into reality.

    Jeffrey Baumgartner

  • marcisegal | August 15, 2009

    Jeffrey makes a good point. Would be great to differentiate between innovation and creativity.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if we could all agree on the clarity between the two?

    Teresa Amabile said it simple. Creativity is the idea, innovation is making the idea happen.

    Work for you?

  • marcisegal | August 15, 2009

    I agree. It’s important for people to realize the difference so they can place their focus in the right arena.

    For new ideas, do what you can to shift your experiences and habitual ways of thinking, seeing, doing. Pay attention to your hunches, combine new elements. This information has been around since the 1950′s.

    For innovation to occur, involve others, as Jeff says, collaborate because no new idea becomes an innovation until other people are involved – project teams, management, clients, customers and other stakeholders all need to perceive its value and act in ways that demonstrate its worth.

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