Wed 11 Feb 2015 | By:

How To Discover Good Business Ideas In 2 Simple Steps: The 5 Innovator’s Skills (part 1)

The Five Skills Every Innovator Must Master (Observation)

How do top innovators get their ideas? Why do they rise above all others?

The Innovator’s DNA gives us a 5-piece answer to this puzzle. Co-authored by Clayton Christensen – you know, the guy who first figured out The Innovator’s Dilemma – you and I would be wise to listen.


The precursor to innovation

It all starts with observation. Becoming aware of everything that’s going on is critical to getting ideas and devising creative solutions.

Akio Morita, the cofounder of Sony, was famous for observing his potential customers and using his insights to sense unmet needs.

Steve Jobs would literally go to the park and watch how people listen to music.

And supposedly, Einstein gained a key insight for his theory of general relativity by watching a painter fall off a scaffold.

Suppose you’re selling screen protectors for iPads. Everything’s going well.

But you get a lot of annoying emails from customers asking if their orders will arrive in time for a specific day.

Enter observation: your customers are clearly concerned about timing. Are they buying those protectors as gifts?

A few conversations later you verify this: yep, some of them do that. So you add a special gift-wrap option at checkout, thus increasing your revenue.

Bingo: you’ve just discovered a good idea by being more observant.


Look at what interesting companies are doing

Careful observation is a lost art. Anyone online in 2015 is bombarded with a ton of images, text and videos.

No time to bring anything into full view. Zero-second attention spans.

Thing is, you gain an advantage if you can work against that. Actively take time to observe things and people.

Your customers, sure. And other people’s customers. But as so often in innovation, you want diversity. You can look at anything.

Observe interesting companies. Forget about what they say…what do they DO?

Jeff Bezos likes to look at ‘really bad innovations’ to see how to improve them. There’s one problem though.

Once you’ve done a lot of something, you’ll see only what you want to see. Blind spots develop. Tunnel vision.

How can you widen your awareness and bring new things into view? Let me show you two ways:


1) Learn about different ways of seeing

Yes, sounds vague. I know.

But there are many kinds of seeing. A painter and a programmer will look at the world in very different ways.

Seth Godin recommends we read How to Use Your Eyes by James Elkins. Sage advice. It’ll change the way you look at things – and show you how much there is to see in even the simplest objects.

My advice: look at how doctors interpret X-ray images or CT scans. Or how geologists can distinguish between different kinds of rock.

Most people cannot do such things, but they can. Hence they have rare powers of observation. Powers you could use.


2) Become a dispassionate observer

Look at things without emotion.

I know – you’re an entrepreneur and so much of what we do involves emotional awareness. But try removing emotion from the picture for just a second. If you don’t, your judgement could be clouded, quite literally.

Consider Venus. Decades ago, credible people thought there could be dinosaur-like creatures on Venus. Why? They couldn’t see anything…and so there must be clouds, so there must be water, so there must be life and thus there could be dinosaurs.

I’ll let Carl Sagan sum this up for you:

“Observation: I can’t see a thing. Conclusion: Dinosaurs.”

You see the value of dispassionate observation? Alright – so you’re clear on this. Now what?

There’s more to do. There are five pieces to the innovation puzzle.

Look for the second piece soon…

About Harry Red

Harry is the founder and CEO of Infyrno, a startup that's laser-focused on accelerating innovation through technology. He's fanatical about learning, questioning things and most of all, taking action. Always wears a red shirt. Connect with him on Twitter.