Innovation: Nature or Nurture

Born or Bred?

An ongoing debate regarding innovation is are we born with the skill or can it be acquired? Can anyone become like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, or Jeff Bezos? The researchers are still debating this, but ANYONE can improve their creativity and innovative strength. This is not some feel-good advice, but well studied research with many case studies.


The Innovator’s DNA

In their book The Innovator’s DNA, Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton M. Christensen outline the five key attributes to improve creativity and innovation. These five elements are not something the authors developed themselves. These are tried-and-true techniques that have been identified for decades as the key to developing creative ideas. The five key skills are:

  1. Associating

  2. Questioning

  3. Observing

  4. Experimenting

  5. Networking


These five are nothing new. Most of you have probably read about these or heard speakers discuss how critical these are to creativity. The issue most organizations have is these are not used systematically. Most people use these haphazardly resulting in sub-optimal efficiently and effectiveness. Having a systematic process where these five elements are used to develop insights is critical. The authors focus on a critical element to creativity which most people ignore, and what makes creative people and organizations successful, practice.

It’s A Skill

Even if legendary innovators have a higher genetic tendency for creativity, everyone can improve in this skill. Yes, just like playing the piano, hitting a golf ball, or learning a foreign language, creativity and innovation is a skill that can be improved with practice. You need to consistently – that is daily – practice these five skills so it becomes a habit. Treat your brain as a muscle and work it until you habitually focus on these elements. In addition, the practice of asking questions is the cornerstone of discovery.


The authors focus on three critical questions that everyone should use:

  1. Why?

  2. Why not?

  3. What if?

If you want to improve your creativity it only takes about 10 minutes per day. Put aside 10 minutes each day, pick a topic and write down – yes, do not just thin about this, write it down! – all your ideas to answer these three questions. Also, utilize a journal to make notes as you experience new things, find things that frustrate you, or just interesting people you met. As you start building this “portfolio” you will start linking these disparate ideas and create new connections that can lead to new ideas and solutions.


And try not to do this in isolation. Meet people from different industries for lunch and learn how they do things. Join organizations that are outside your professional network or volunteer. The more experiences we have the higher our rate of connecting-the-dots across areas. And practice, practice, practice. Too often we get out of school, join a company, and work. We have to start looking at work and business as an area of lifetime learning. This will improve your personal toolbox and future abilities to succeed, as well as making a more full and valuable life!