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The Innovators DNA

Mastering The Skills of Disruptive Innovators

Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, Clayton Christensen

1. Association

The Medici effect - the creative explosion of the Renaissance began in Florence when the Medici family brought together creators from a wide range of disciplines - sculptors, scientists,poets, philosophers, painters and architects. As they connected they created new ideas at the intersections of their fields. Innovative thinkers connect fields and ideas that others had found unrelated.

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2. Questioning

Steven Jobs hated the noise of fan in computer because it disturbed his meditations. Question: why does it have to have one? Because the power supply generates a lot of heat. OK can we design a power supply that doesn't get as hot and doesn't need a fan? Turned out you could, and had side benefit that computer cd be smaller without a fan, as in the Macintosh.


In 1979 Jobs got a guided tour of Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center), where he saw first GUI (Graphical User Interface)with icons, drop down menus and over-lapping windows, all controlled by click of a mouse. Took 5 years to reproduce this on PC, but if he hadn't seen the PARC demo ...

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4. Networking

A friend told Jobs to talk to a "couple of crazy guys" who ran a small graphics company called Industrial Light & Magic, which was working on special effects for George Lucas. Jobs bought the company for $10 million, renamed it Pixar, and eventually went public for $1 billion.

5. Experimenting

Jobs tried lots of offbeat non-standard CV stuff like living in an ashram in India. Varied experiences trigger ideas for innovation.

In contrast to innovators who seek to fundamentally change existing business models, most bosses work hard to deliver the next thing that should be done given the existing business model. They work inside the box, converting someone's goal or innovation into reality. They are good at execution.

Common for founding entrepreneur/innovator to step aside for execs with great delivery skills. Either bored by process of scaling up, or clearly lacks exec skills. But then when the life cycle of the new product matures and a new innovation is needed, the company management is dominated by guys without innovation skills. Turns out that if entrepreneurial founders can be retained, company significantly out performs peers. Jobs return to Apple being prime example - unlikely that old company would have produced the super hits of iTunes, iPhone, iPad.

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Larry Page took existing academic idea of ranking publications by citations and applied to search algorithm.

A T-shaped person - someone with deep expertise in one field and a shallow breadth of knowledge in many fields. Such a person can import knowledge from one of shallow pools to change something he is expert in, or export some of his expert deep knowledge to one of the broader fields. Either way new ways of seeing the same data or problems.

Investor was pitched an idea for a 15 minute card game. He didn't think the game was unique enough to crack the tough family game market. He was going to reject idea but asked inventor why he had developed it. Guy said he had 3 kids wanted to have fun with them after work, but there wasn't time for games like Monopoly etc. He wanted a quick game that would give dad and kids quick and enjoyable few minutes at end of the day. That caused investor rethink, and led to successful line of "12 Minute Games" sold through Target.

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