Review: The Innovator’s DNA

If you’ve been following the scene here at, then you know that I’m always looking for resources that help develop disruptive innovation.

The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and and Clayton M. Christensen is that kind of resource.  If you recognize Christensen’s name, it is because he is recognized as the world’s foremost authority on disruptive innovation.

When Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma was first published in 1997, it was clear that he was following in the footsteps of Joseph Shumpeter, architect of the concept of creative destruction.  The Innovator’s DNA moves well beyond theory with a set of five skills that can be mastered.  A key assumption of the book is that while certain innovators clearly have the reputation (Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Jeff Bezos, etc.), their behaviors can be learned and emulated.  A comprehensive study confirming this was done by a group of researchers (Reznikoff, Domino, Bridges, and Honemon) who studies creative abilities in 117 pairs of identical and fraternal twins.  The researchers discovered that only 30% of creative performance could be attributed to genetics.

In fact, the authors “describe in detail five skills that anyone can master to improve his or her own ability to be an innovative thinker (p. 11).”  The five skills are:

  • Associating: “Innovators discover new directions by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.”
  • Questioning: “Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry.”
  • Observing: Innovators “carefully watch the world around them.”
  • Networking: “Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary widely in their backgrounds and perspectives.”
  • Experimenting: “Innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas.”

The promise of The Innovator’s DNA is that you and I can learn the skills to become more innovative.  Does it live up to the promise?  I think it does!  Each of the chapters that dissect and examine the five skills includes a set of tips for developing them.  The best part?  I really think anyone could apply some or all of the tips and begin to develop these skills.

Part Two takes a look at the DNA of the world’s most innovative companies.  As fascinating an examination as it is, the best part is that this section looks at how to put the innovator’s DNA into practice with people, processes, and philosophies.  I have to say, my copy is really marked up, underlined and starred in this section.  There is a lot here that will benefit all of us!

If you want to become a more innovative organization, I hope you’ll pick up a copy of The Innovator’s DNA.  I know I loved it…and I’m betting you will too!

Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers

There are books I know I’ll read once (all or part) and then there are books that I know I’ll pull off my shelves many times.  Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers is the latter.

Written by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie, Designing for Growth really does have a toolkit feel.  It also has a very good, beginning to end, way of laying out how you might ask four invaluable questions: What is? (exploring current reality), What if? (envisions a new future), What wows? (makes some choices) and What works? (takes you into the marketplace).

Designing for Growth is not theory or reasoning. Instead, it is a tactical playbook that has great application for all of us.
I knew I needed to take a look when I saw Roger Martin’s comments on the jacket: “This intelligent how-to follow-up to the first wave of popular design books will serve as a useful guide to going through a design project from start to finish.”  If you remember, Martin was the author of one my favorite reads of 2009, The Design of Business.

In addition to the four questions, this toolkit includes ten tools that you’ll find immediately useful.  In fact, as I worked my way through Section II, What Is?, I found myself jotting notes about how I could use all four of the tools associated with that stage.

  • Visualization: “using imagery to envision possibilities and bring them to life”
  • Journey Mapping: “assessing the existing experience through the customer’s eyes”
  • Value Chain Analysis: “assessing the current value chain that supports the customer’s journey”
  • Mind Mapping: “generating insights from exploration activities and using those to create design criteria”

Far beyond descriptions of the ten tools, Designing for Growth includes detailed explanations of how to implement them.  And by the way, I noticed that even very business related concepts (like value chain analysis) have obvious tie-ins to what most of us do and the tools make application steps obvious.

If you caught the design-thinking wave of 2009-10 (The Design of Business, Change by Design, Design Thinking, Design-Driven Innovation, Innovation X) you will really get a lot out of this book.  Designing for Growth is not theory or reasoning.  Instead, it is a tactical playbook that has great application for all of us.

Review: The Accidental Creative

Every once in a while I pick up a book that has so many great takeaways, it becomes a resource I know I’m going to come back to…again and again.  Turns out The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry is that kind of book!

Although not on exactly the same topic, I quickly noticed that this could be a companion to Making Ideas Happen.  This is very much a do-the-work kind of resource, but Henry comes at it from the perspective of an effective creative.  Really packed with practical and nuts-and-bolts wisdom based on actually getting it done, The Accidental Creative is also one of those books that pulls you back to previous chapters or sections, just to make sure you didn’t miss a suddenly key nugget.

I have to say, too, that nothing here is very complicated.  These are simple ideas that when practiced will make a difference.  Henry points out that, “Common sense is not common practice, and that people who succeed are often those who do the little, everyday things that others don’t (p. 65).”

Part 2 of The Accidental Creative provides a powerful set of tools, tips and concepts that are immediately actionable in the following areas:

  • Focus: Zeroing in on What’s Critical: I came away with two great practices from this chapter that will definitely help me refine what I need to be working on.
  • Relationships: Being Brilliant Together: I loved the idea of circles and am already thinking about how I can apply this concept quickly.
  • Energy: Your Invisible Ally: There is a genius idea about the process of incorporating a whole-life aspect you planning that really resonated with me.
  • Stimuli: What Goes In Must Come Out: I loved the comparison of stimuli and diet and could see right away that without intentionality, I’m ending up with an out-of-balance intake.  The practice of developing a stimulus queue captured my imagination right away and will certainly become standard operating procedure.
  • Hours: They’re The Currency of Productivity: Making a distinction between obligation (what must be maintained) versus opportunity (what could be built) has the potential to provide a powerful set of lenses through which most of what we do is evaluated.

Perhaps the most compelling tool introduced is the concept of weekly, monthly and quarterly checkpoints designed to provide the traction needed to encourage movement.  Such a compelling idea that I pulled out my calendar and immediately began looking for the first opportunity to implement it.

If you’re in the creative business, whether you are one intentionally or you find yourself there accidentally…I highly recommend the Accidental Creative.  Such a great read!  I have no doubts that your copy will be as marked up as mine!

It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For

If you do any work on developing vision, mission…or purpose, it would be a good idea to pick up a copy of It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For by Roy M. Spence, Jr.  I first ran across Spence when I read Mavericks at Work and GSD&M, the Austin based marketing and advertising company he serves as chairman and CEO, was highlighted more than once as an example.

I asked for a review copy when I noticed the subtitle: Why Every Extraordinary Business is Driven By Purpose.  Believe me, I was not disappointed.  This is a great read and packed with lots of ideas, principles and practices you can use right away.

There are several very important features with this book.  First, it opens with three very important chapters on distinguishing purpose from mission or vision, how to discover your purpose and how to articulate your purpose.  I loved the fact that all three of these chapters were very practical and included tips and exercises designed to make it happen.

Second, going far beyond discovering and articulating purpose, in Part II and III Spence wrestles with building an organization that makes a difference and becoming a leader of great purpose.  One of the coolest things about these sections of the book is that they’re heavily seasoned with stories from some of the most dynamic purpose-driven corporations (including Walmart, AARP, Whole Foods, Southwest Airlines, and Charles Schwab).  You’ll come away with many, many stories that will inspire you to think differently about the task at hand.

Finally, Part IV provides a detailed examination on the subject of bringing purpose to life in the marketplace.  Covering corporations (Walmart, BMW, etc.), membership organizations (AARP), nonprofit organizations (American Red Cross), higher education (Texas A&M), and sports (PGA), the case studies in this section provides extensive detail of the strategies (marketing, human resources, business objectives, etc.) that brought purpose to life.

While Roy Spence is clearly a brilliant and very successful marketer, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For is not a book about marketing or advertising.  In fact, in one of my favorite quotes from Part IV he writes that “the more an organization understands its purpose, the more it can create products, services, and experiences that will create a strong brand in the marketplace.  Truth be told, advertising is very far downstream in the process of building truly great brands (p. 156).”

This book is about discovering and learning to articulate purpose.  It’s about building an purpose-based organization.  It’s about becoming a purpose-based leader.  Sounds like the kind of thing all of us could use more of.  This is a great book and I’ll be recommending it to many of my consulting clients.

The Idea Hunter | A Great Addition to the Innovation Toolbox

If you’re always looking for ways to find better ideas, The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make Them Happen, by Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer is a must read!  I’m constantly on the lookout for resources that will help me jettison the status quo.  The Idea Hunter was just the ticket.

If Boynton name is familiar, you might be familiar with his Managerial DeepDive workshop.  Developed as a result of idea hunting at IDEO (the world’s premier design firm), these workshops are now being used in creating innovation and growth strategies, visioning the future, redesigning processes or organizations, managing and leading change.

Packed with practices and highly implementable concepts (some that were immediately adopted), I ended up with a pretty marked up book.

The Idea Hunter jumps right in with a very helpful section on finding your gig.  Whether you’ve already been in a field for years or you’re just looking for what it is that you were made to do…this is very good stuff.  Taking their lead from Tom Peter’s set of four questions designed to help readers discern their gig (i.e., What do I want to be?, What do I want to stand for?, Does my work matter?, and Am I making a difference?), Boynton and Fischer add in several additional question sets.  Did I say this already?  This is great stuff!

I particularly loved the way the authors boiled down the process to four key steps:

  • INTERESTED: Be Interested, Not Just Interesting.  Makes a lot of sense.  As a collector of great quotes and anecdotes, I loved the Einstein line: “I have no special talents.  I am only passionately curious.”  You can definitely see where this section is going, but the ideas here will have impact.
  • DIVERSE: Diversifying the Hunt.  It’s about what Jack Welch called “boundarylessness.”  It’s about what IDEO refers to as being a “T” thinker.  It’s about the conviction that “someone, somewhere, has a better idea.”  There are a bunch of great ideas in this chapter that will help you begin to think (and hunt) more broadly.
  • EXERCISED: Mastering the Habits of the Hunt.  This chapter is all about putting together the daily habits that will allow you to capture the new ideas you trip across.
  • AGILE: Idea Flow is Critical:  There is a goldmine here!  Simple ways to generate idea flow.  Along with nuggets from Steve Jobs and Twyla Tharp, I found a technique from New York Times reporter Olivia Judson right in line with the way my brain works.  Great stuff!

For me, the very best components of The Idea Hunter were the Ideawork sections that immediately followed each of their four concepts.  I came away with a great workshop exercise, a tremendous insight into how Warren Buffett finds superior value, a Twyla Tharp method of assembling an idea portfolio, and a great key to determining if it’s just a great idea or one that really fits the definition of gig-friendliness.

I like this book!  The Idea Hunter (affiliate link) is a book you should pick up if you’re interested in finding the best ideas, the ones that will take you to the next level.

Review | Jolt: Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing

Feel stuck?  Looking for a way to renovate some aspect of your life?  Jolt: Get the Jump on a World That’s Constantly Changing by Phil Cooke might be just the ticket.  One of those rare books that’s both an easy read and a challenging personal change roadmap, Jolt could turn out to be the inspiration you need to take some important next steps.

If you’re familiar with Cooke’s previous book, Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Nonprofits Impact Culture and Others Don’t or his work as a Hollywood producer, you might wonder about his credentials for a book on personal change.  I think once you’re into Jolt you’ll find yourself repeatedly caught up in the combination of personal stories and life-change anecdotes that fill the book.

The book is organized in a way that’s very conducive to guiding a personal makeover.  Each of the five sections has 5 chapters and each chapter is designed to provide practical steps that will help you move from where you are to where you want to be; to jolt some key areas of your life (overall direction, priorities and habits, personal growth, motivation and accountability, future and legacy).

I found particularly helpful the set of questions at the end of each section.  In what can be a kind of checklist or summary, these questions provide a set of takeaway assignments that can push you further in a new direction.

This really is the kind of book you’ll find yourself breezing through and then being suddenly stopped by a bullet point or an idea that just pops out on the page.  It’s not hard reading; in fact, Cooke’s objective was not a “complex business book filled with jargon, diagrams and intricate strategy that only a PhD could understand (p. xix).”  Instead, it’s about “navigating changes in the world that will result in a new perspective on living, a better understanding of the world around you, the ability to recognize new opportunities, and a stronger vision for the future (p. xxv).”

Need to make some changes?  I think you’ll find Jolt a helpful source of inspiration and practical next steps.

Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers

If you lead meetings and need to be more innovative…you’re going to want to pick up a copy of Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers.  Wow!  What a great resource!

I caught co-author Sunni Brown on a presentation she gave for Duarte Designs and knew I needed to check this book out.  I was not disappointed.

At the outset, Gamestorming points out that while in “industrial work, we want to manage work for consistent, repeatable, and predictable results,” that won’t produce breakthrough ideas.  Since the goal isn’t “to incrementally improve on the past but to generate something new,” you’re going to have to do things to make it possible for your team to “imagine a world that we can’t really fully conceive yet.”

You’ve probably heard of the way the military uses game playing to develop and teach strategy.  That’s the concept here.  At over 250 pages, this book is really a toolbox full of some of the best practice concepts used by many of the most creative companies.

After establishing a basic pattern (gamestorming involves opening exercises that are divergent, exploring exercises that are emergent, and closing exercises that are convergent), the rest of the book is made up of tools that you can learn to use as you put together your own opportunities to gamestorm.

Each of the included exercises features the object of play, the number of players that can play, the duration of play, a brief explanation of how to play, and the strategy for its use.

Gamestorming is one of those books (kind of like Dan Roam’s Back of the Napkin or Doug Hall’s Jump Start Your Business Brain) that you’re going to want figure out a way to use right away.  While you’re going to recognize a few of the games, unless you’re really a visual and experience guru, there are going to be plenty that you’ll react like I did when you see them.  I want to try Campfire!  I want to try The 4Cs!  I want to try the Pain Gain Map!  And so will you.