Aug 072011
Illustration of DNA "Holliday junction"

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Or are truly creative people born with something special?

Clayton Christensen discusses his latest book, The Innovator’s DNA, which analyzes the traits of CEOs who have disrupted their industries.

The man who coined “disruptive innovation” more than a decade ago is still transforming the way we think about the powerful ideas. In his new book, Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Clayton Christensen, along with Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen, moves beyond analysing the process of disrupting an industry, delving into the very roots of creativity. Its timing is apt: a recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. In their follow-up to The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen, Dyer, and Gregersen analyze an eight-year study of the origins of innovative business ideas. The research is augmented by interviews with people such as Amazon‘s Jeff Bezos, eBay‘s Pierre Omidyar, and‘s Marc Benioff—through which the authors examine traits these innovators share, and, subtly raise the question: can anyone emulate these traits in order to innovate? Christensen, a Harvard business professor, seems to think it’s possible. He spoke with‘s Christine Lagorio about the need for innovators need to ditch their troves of data, the counterintuitive significance of networking, and his favorite innovation that comes out of business school (spoiler alert: it’s his own).

It seems like your book is arguing that people can simply teach themselves how to be innovative. Is that true?
Well, kind of. We have a sense that there are some people who are just born with an instinct to do the things that we describe. And a few are never going to get there. And there are a few who are going to get there by learning what they can do.

In that sense, is this a self-help book?
Absolutely. Plain old ordinary people like you and I can do remarkable things. It’s kind of, for the elect few, intuition. What we’ve tried to do in this book is codify it and make what was intuition explicit, so that the rest of us can copy what they do.

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