How to Discover Skills of Innovation to Apply in Your Life?

innovation discovery skills

In the last post, I mentioned the research by scholars in the U.K. who concluded that employees find meaningful work for themselves. Organizations do not make work more or less meaningful for their employees; instead, what often happens is companies create an environment that destroys the sense of meaningfulness. As long as organizations foster a sense of meaningfulness for their people, it is up to the individuals to uncover what gives their work meaning and purpose.

While everyone wants their work to be meaningful, how do you achieve it? We have already said that work has to be aligned with your values and beliefs, but is there anything else we can do?

The answer is yes. I believe that we can gain inspiration from innovators and learn "discovery skills." The five "discovery skills" are associating, questioning, observing, experimenting, and networking. Networking might sound familiar as many career counselors and sales professionals often mention it as a valuable skill to develop to get a new job or develop new business. However, in this context, networking means something a little different.

The "discovery skills" come from a fascinating book by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen, and Clayton Christensen The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, which was based on a six-year study of innovative entrepreneurs, executives, and individuals who had started innovative companies or invented new products.

  1. Associating is an ability to connect unrelated problems, questions, or ideas from different fields to cultivate new insights. The best way to build this skill is to have a wide range of diverse knowledge and experiences.
  1. Questioning. Innovators challenge common thinking through questioning and always asking why, why not, and what if. Instead of asking questions to find out how to make something a little better, they question the assumptions and play devil's advocate. Peter Drucker emphasized the significance of provocative questions when he said:

"The important and difficult job is never to find the right answers, it is to find the right questions."

  1. Observing. By observing common phenomena, innovators are able to discover new business ideas. Some of the ideas come from paying attention to small behavioral details.
  1. Experimenting. Innovators experiment, try out new ideas, create prototypes, and launch pilots. They are not afraid to fail because that is how they harvest the learning. To develop this skillset, approach work and life with a hypothesis testing mindset where you form hypotheses using your acquired knowledge. You then test the hypotheses and either accept or reject them as you move forward in life.
  1. Networking. Unlike most people in business who network to sell something or access resources, innovators network to meet people with different kinds of ideas and perspectives. Ask people you meet how they stimulate creative thinking.

The key takeaway is to think differently. The challenge of formal education and corporate training is that it teaches people to conform to one way of thinking. We start to use jargon, acronyms, buzzwords, and after a while, everyone and everything sounds the same. An environment that does not foster independent and authentic thought prevents self-expression, creative thinking, and a sense of personal responsibility. One way organizations can cultivate meaningfulness at work is by encouraging their employees to develop the five "discovery skills."

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