Inno­va­tion does not come easy. While a few stand­out com­pa­nies have embraced cre­ative think­ing, most tra­di­tional busi­nesses do not encour­age employ­ees to color out­side the lines. Still, inno­va­tion, when suc­cess­ful, draws huge rewards. Steve Jobs with Apple. Elon Musk with Tesla and Pay­Pal. Ing­var Kam­prad with Ikea. Jeff Bezos with Ama­zon. What makes these guys think so differently?

You might say it’s all in their genes, hard-wired in their left-right, top-bottom brain processes, but you’d be wrong. The big thing shared by most inno­va­tors is that they are great at asso­ci­at­ing things. They ask ques­tions. They look at some­thing and won­der why—or, more impor­tantly, why not. Then, they exper­i­ment and net­work like there’s no tomorrow.

The take away here is the best part of the whole mes­sage: the innovator’s skill set is some­thing that can be learned. Sure, genet­ics plays a part, but the great thing is that any­one armed with desire and drive can employ asso­cia­tive think­ing, sup­ported by four other dis­cov­ery skills, to trans­form into an innovator.

I recently invited Dr. Jeff Dyer, coau­thor of The Innovator’s DNA with Hal Gregersen and Clay­ton M. Chris­tensen, to do a work­shop with my team at Adobe. Jeff spent time talk­ing with every per­son on the team, rein­forc­ing that whether the task at hand is rais­ing chil­dren, build­ing a sky­scraper, or design­ing a mar­ket­ing plan, every­one gains inno­v­a­tive ground by asso­ci­at­ing to con­nect the unconnected.

Inno­v­a­tive think­ing is born of a set of five dis­cov­ery skills, unleash­ing a pow­er­ful way of look­ing at the world. The first skill, asso­cia­tive think­ing, is a cog­ni­tive process that is per­va­sively sup­ported by four other dis­cov­ery skills crit­i­cal to innovation:

  • Ques­tion­ing
  • Observ­ing
  • Net­work­ing
  • Exper­i­ment­ing

Suc­cess­ful inno­va­tors know their weak­nesses, and few are good all across the board. Embrac­ing your weak­ness, and know­ing who to bring in to carry that piece of the work­load, is a key aspect of inno­v­a­tive success.

In rec­og­niz­ing how help­ful asso­cia­tive think­ing can be, I’m reminded of a prob­lem my team at a big sub­scrip­tion busi­ness solved a few years ago. We were track­ing B2B dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing efforts across sev­eral dif­fer­ent touch­points. Dig­i­tal track­ing made the task eas­ier but also more com­pli­cated. Tying together ad copy, emails, down­loads, sales calls, and all other touch­points became a true challenge.

We decided to bring all the touch­points together, cre­at­ing an array. Through pat­tern analy­sis we cre­ated a new way to under­stand the exist­ing cause and effect rela­tion­ship, and we learned how to apply some­thing usu­ally used in B2C mar­ket­ing for our B2B challenge.

We ended up patent­ing the process, shar­ing it with cus­tomers, and using it to mea­sure com­plex sales cycles. The process con­tin­ues, to this day, to tell us where to allo­cate our dol­lars and how many dol­lars we return for every one invested.

That inno­v­a­tive solu­tion, as sim­ple as apply­ing a process from B2C to our B2B world and tweak­ing it with analy­sis and an array, was made pos­si­ble by sim­ple, asso­cia­tive thinking.

Inno­va­tors change the way we do sim­ple, every­day things by mak­ing them faster, more effi­cient, or more attrac­tive. Wouldn’t you like to join that club?

0 comments