Questioning & Associating Skills and Innovation

This is the last in a series of posts on the book: “The Innovator’s DNA” by Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen. They identified five skills for disruptive innovators: Observing, Networking, Experimenting, Questioning, and Associating.

Questioning – In innovation, asking the right questions in the right way, is as critical as finding the answers. If the right questions aren’t being asked, then the answers aren’t going to be terribly useful. The book covers tactics to use to create an environment where the right questions get asked. One interesting point is that it can be very productive to engage in thought experiments where questions are used to either remove or impose constraints. What if an additional constrain were added to your situation? How would you deal with it? What if an existing constraint were removed? What would then be possible? Innovators are always asking why products/services/business models are the way they are, and why they can’t be made better.

Associating – The best innovations often happen at the crossroads between two disciplines. Great innovators are able to connect different technologies or ideas together inner ways, to offer products that have never before existed. Also, some of the best innovators are people or companies that have expertise in multiple areas. For example: engineering and medicine, software and hardware, biotechnology and computing. Great innovators and innovative companies are able to pull together seemingly unrelated concepts to deliver radical results. There is also a great book by Frans Johansson called: “The Medici Effect” which goes into more detail on the power of working at the intersections between different fields.

As an individual product developer, it is critical to build the two skills of Questioning and Associating. As an innovation leader, you must ensure that these two skills are part of the culture you build in an organization to create an environment where radical, disruptive ideas can emerge.

Anyone either leading innovation or working in an organization where innovation is important, should read “The Innovator’s DNA.” The concepts are simple and there is a lot of common sense behind them, but they are also concepts that are frequently forgotten or underdeveloped. Mastering these five skills will add value for either individuals or organizations.