Are you an Innovator? Interview with Hal Gregersen, The Innovator’s DNA

Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezo’s, Richard Branson, all innovators, but what do they do differently than everyone else? And what things can we do to become more like them? I speak to Hal Gregersen, co-author of The Innovator’s DNA – Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators about Questionstorming, the Medici effect and, of course, how we can become more innovative. Check it out!

Get it here: Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (affiliate link)

See also: (book co-authored by: Hal Gregersen, Jeff Dyer & Clayton M. Christensen)

Hals Twitter:!/HalGregersen

innovators DNA

Check out the book!


Are you an Innovator? Interview with Hal Gregersen, The Innovator’s DNA

Howard: Hi everyone, it’s Howard from Startup Remarkable here. [And] today I have the great honor of having Hal Gregerson, author of new book The Innovator’s DNA recently I Amazoned on that. [And] it’s a great pleasure to have you here, Hal.

Hal: It’s great to be with you. Thank you.

Howard: Great! [Today we’re just gonna] after reading the book I really wanted to just have a quick chat about what is it that makes us an innovator? What really kinda practical steps can entrepreneurs like ourselves take to be more innovative?

Hal: You know, entrepreneurs do what I’m going to describe naturally and for many of us maybe who aren’t naturally innovative we can become the same way. And so what it comes down to as we’ve often hear of the tune or the notion think differently. What we discovered with this research looking incredibly destructive innovators was that they think differently because they act differently. And if you were to walk in their everyday world and be able to watch what they do they engage in behaviors that help them get creative ideas and so they’re always provoking the world with this questions that just really upset people sometimes but they’re trying to get underneath the surface of what’s going on here to figure out how might we do things differently.

What if we did it this way? Why not that way? Now they observe. They put their eyes on where they’re observing like anthropologist and they basically they [you know] pay really careful attention to the world and they talk to a lot of different people. We call it networking for ideas. Now it’s talking to people who, not only look like us, but who think differently than we do to provoke new ideas. And finally, now they’re really they have this experimental approach to the world. It might be experimenting with food, it might be trying something different, going to a new place on a vacation, and it might also be a willingness to just try something different at work to be able to figure out a better way. So they really act differently to think differently.

Howard: Great! And reading the book I tell you it was a great fun book to write because your studying some really [really] exciting people. And at what point do you think this is something you know you talk about Jeff Bezos a lot and Steve Jobs a lot and is this something that they always did or did they learn it or…

Hal: [Laugh] I think it’s a fun question which is [you know in] a fun way to answer this question is to remember that Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs and other incredibly well known founders of this innovative companies they were ones four year olds. And when I walk around the world wherever I go, whatever country I’m in, four year olds act like four year olds. I don’t care if they’re famous or not. Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs were not famous when they were four year olds. But they did what you and I did you know. They asked the four year old kinds of questions. Why not, why this, why that, they observe carefully. They talk to different people. They try all kinds of new things. They think laterally or associationally connecting the unconnected. We did it all when we were four years old.

And so what’s unique about many of these innovators is that when they were growing up from four years old to twenty four years old, they had adults in their world either in schooling systems or at home or their community. They said, “Guess what. Don’t let go of those skills, keep them running, make them go.” And so some of it is the world we live in is, not just some, it’s really about 60 or 70 percent of anybodies innovation capability does not come from their DNA. It comes from practice. It comes from doing certain things about 30% of it does. But that’s the small portion. The big portion is just doing things differently.

Howard: Great, and that as well leads us on nicely to the next question which [I suppose] one of the things I thought was great about the book is that it has a lot of practical tips and you see I have them marked here. The book is a great read and so [I suppose] you kinda outline five core areas how we can become more innovative in the book. And maybe, could you just briefly bring us through them? Maybe give us one of your [I suppose] one of the practical kinda tips how we might be able to implement them.

Hal: The logical way of thinking through them is, most innovation starts with a question. So it’s essentially you know I’ve got to get a new question and generate a better way of thinking about things by asking provocative questions. That’s the first piece. The second piece becomes [you know] I don’t just sit in my chair inside of my office asking clever questions. And what we know from the research is that if I do that, I might not gonna get great ideas that actually create value. In other words they generate something that somebody else wants.

So, if I start asking productive questions and then get out of my office and either go make observations of actual people to see [you know] what are their needs, what are the jobs to be done, what can we do here that could be done differently, or it might be that I literally talk to a lot of different people in a systematic way. Or I go at night and I experiment with the world and I try different things to see how it might help me get some new ideas. When I do that stuffs, that’s how I generate the new ideas.

So, when Mark Benioff got the idea for he didn’t just sit in his office. He worked for 20 years at Cisco figuring out enterprise software systems. And then he sold a lot of them to small medium enterprises plus size enterprises but it really didn’t work great and they weren’t doing a fantastic job selling it to them. So he takes a sabbatical. He experiments by going off to India and he talks with this incredibly spiritual people about the world and he explores that place. And he also talks to a real wide variety of interesting entrepreneurs. People who see the world differently, and technology people. And then he gives himself time to put this all together and then at some point his swimming in the ocean, the Pacific Ocean, with the dolphins. And it all comes together, he connects the unconnected. What if we sold enterprise level software like Amazon sells books? It’s like putting this two things together and that creates cloud computing. And we know the story but that’s how we do it you know. We literally engage in those actions in order to get the new ideas.

Howard: Yeah, I remember, that was a great story. I really enjoyed it swimming with dolphins part especially. One of the things you mentioned there about asking the right questions. One of the tips you talked about is question storming. Now, I’d never heard of it before and I was like, “That’s such a good idea.” You kinda flip on brainstorming asking the questions instead of trying to come up with all the answers. Do you have any examples of people that have used that and I supposed opened up the answers to the questions that are relevant?

Hal: Absolutely. And so I watch people use this individually and we work with executive teams doing it as [you know] as a team. And essentially, when we get to the point that we’re stuck trying to figure out a solution to a problem and all of us, whether be personal or professional, we have some sort of a problem that we don’t have a solution to. It might be a relationship issue or it might be a professional technical kind of issue but we don’t have a solution. We thought about it, we wrestled with it, we’re trying to figure it out, but it’s just we’re not getting anywhere. You know those moments, right? When we hit that moment, that’s the point of which this question storming can be powerful.

And so, It might be that I’m trying to figure out a better way of selling something and what I would do individually would be, get a journal. Paper based journal, electronic journal, Ipad, whatever. And everyday keep a journal. And for five minutes, write down questions, nothing but questions about the problem. And if we do that day after day it’s inevitable that within 7-10 days we’ll start asking very different questions. And that’s the key _____ point because I can’t get any solution if I don’t ask a different question. It just goes with the territory. And so that’s how this folks do it. They literally brainstorm questions at an individual level by asking the questions along the way.

I was working with one company that was trying to get a more positive brand image up there in the world. And what we literally did with the group of senior executives was figuring out… We get a question storming where the group of people asks nothing but questions. You get a big white board. You get some markers. You tell everybody shut up if you don’t have a question to ask. And let’s just ask nothing but questions. And you demand at least 50 questions about the problem before you let go. So, its question question question question. You write them down. You look at the question. You think about it. What could be different here, how could I see this differently. And what happens is, when we question storm, what I notice is sometimes people who don’t say anything actually have the best questions. And their provocative and they generate new perspectives. So what we did, by the time we got down to question 73 in that question storming exercise no. 1, people are a little bit tired because they’re not used to thinking in questions. And it’s like a muscle that never gets used. They said, “You know, this is just exhausting at one level.” But they realize when they went back and look at those questions, they were asking the wrong question in order to get a better brand image. And that lead them down to an entirely different path on what they are doing.

Howard: Ok and so using that example than, they will go through all that questions, look to answer them, but they would see, as going through that process, which are [I supposed] the questions that they should be asking.

Hal: Well, if you go through that individually or as a group and you’ve got this long list of questions then at that point it’s ok. Which of these are worth pursuing? And one of the questions about the questions might be again which one is surprising. Which one is surprising enough that it’s like, “Wow! I never quite thought of that. And if we had an answer to that it might give us the solution here.”

So, the question then becomes the foundation from which I go out and do something with the question. I go out and make some observations in a different industry or in a different country about that particular issue. I go out and I talk to five different people and these things are five practical things just like question storming you know. It’s literally putting on my agenda or schedule. It’s putting three different lunches, one per week, for a series of three weeks with somebody in a completely different industry or a completely different country of origin or completely different technically professional background than I have and talking with them about the problem we have.

One organization, TBWA, when they do advertising campaigns, they haul in boxes of hats and shirts from innovative companies. So, I might be working for IMB and I’m bringing in a bunch of hats and t-shirts from Apple and from Virgin and from Amazon and from Google. And they, literally, put on the hat of that company and they say, “Ok, if I work for Apple, how would I look at this problem?” And that’s what AT networking is doing. It’s getting me in the perspective of somebody else and how they look at this problem. It’s a great way to get new ideas.

Howard: Fantastic! That’s great, Hal. [Countless of time I] there’s a lot of areas I’d like to speak to you about and I supposed the Medici effect that you talk about with AT networking. I supposed, it’s the first time cause one of this things about networking, we all know what we should be doing, but it’s the first time I’d really heard it articulated why it should be, why [it is such] it actually is important advantage. Could you just explain the Medici effect to us very briefly?

Hal: Well, first, there has been a great book called The Medici Effect. And it’s essentially you get new ideas when you live in the intersection. And I leave in near Paris and it’s faster to drive in the Arc de Triomphe. It’s got 12 major streets coming into that circular road around the arc. And when you go into that intersection, it’s a given, if you get into an accident it’s both parties fault. [It’s just] it goes with the intersection. You’re gonna bump into each other. And what innovators do when they network for ideas or when they try to generate new ideas they intentionally go into the intersection where their gonna bump into new perspectives and bump into new ideas and bump into day to day they have never seen before. And it’s in that bumping in the intersection that we create this Medici effect which that word comes from the renaissance period in Italy.

Where the Medici family brings together people from all over the world, different professional backgrounds, different interests for _____ this part of Italy. And the family literally supports this explosion of new ideas. So that’s what we can do not just you know out there but we can do it in here. We create that intersection, that Medici effect, in our heads by going out discovering new things, experiencing new things, talking to different people. And then we’re pushed into a corner and we got to create a new idea. We have all this stuff that we bumped into that can give us a new idea.

Howard: Fantastic, great advice. Well, just ask you one more question, Hal. And before we finish up, if you were then, knowing everything that you know now, about what makes a good innovator. What kinda one piece of advice really kinda practical piece of advice somebody could put into action today would you give to [say] a young entrepreneur just starting up a new business?

Hal: Go with your strengths when it comes to these innovations skills. Some people love to watch the world – they’re observers, other people love to talk to people – they’re idea networkers, others they tinker, they experiment, they just try new different things. 1) Know what your strength is, what do you love to do, and what are you good at. 2) Make sure that you spend time, even when you’re starting a new business and you don’t have time to do it, to keep that skill alive. Do it. Force yourself to do it. Because you’ll never quite know what person you’re gonna talk to, what situation you’re going to pay attention to for your observations that might be critical at the next stage of your business. So it’s, [you know] know who you are.

We got this really great assessment that you can potentially use that gives people data around [you know] who are you in terms of these skills. It’s the But basically, it helps us know who we are. Leverage those skills and if we do them regularly it’s just short amounts of time 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes. It compiles, it compounds, at some point leads us to something really good.

Howard: Fantastic, great advice. Well thanks very much, Hal.

Hal: You’re welcome.

Howard: And everybody The Innovators DNA is available on Amazon and also the website

Hal: That’s it. Yeah.

Howard: Fantastic and I highly recommend there’s some great stuff so thanks for joining us, Hal.

Hal: Howard, thank you very much.

Howard: Thank you very much.

Hal: You’re welcome. Bye bye.



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