Can Innovation be Learned?

Can Innovation be Learned?

There’s an increasing need in today’s economy to be innovative. Everywhere I look, I see the “I-word” and it’s getting old. The art of coming up with great ideas is extremely important, yet misconceptions run rampant. Many individuals believe that certain people are born with creativity and the ability to magically come up disruptive ideas, yet that isn’t the case at all (Read the Talent Code.)

While some advocate the use of special tools to increase creativity, I find them to scratch the surface of how innovation truly happens. Forcing yourself to “come up with big ideas” creates lackluster goals focused on creating as many ideas as possible (it’s all about quantity instead of quality.) In my attempt to research this subject, I decided to pick up the Innovator’s DNA. This book is optimistic, advocating that the many of the world’s leading innovators have advanced behavioral skills. Put simply, they have learned to be innovative.

Connecting Unrelated Dots

Great ideas are born when individuals “connect the dots.” Oftentimes, these dots have no significance to the average person, and aren’t related to each other at all (or so it seems.) Innovators spend large amounts of time trying to “think different.” While the average person may find this to be a burdensome process, after time it can be an invigorating experience!

Imagine this scenario. I am the CEO of a tech company who decides to start building a model RC plane as a hobby. While working on this project, I find out that the wings of the RC plane are built with a specific material that is very light, yet extremely flexible. It just so happens that this is a problem my company was trying to solve with a new product feature. In this story, working in another industry (RC Planes) led me to discover a feature that could be applied to my industry (technology).

These scenarios are constantly happening – once again, thinking differently is all about connecting unrelated dots. The next steps are behavioral changes that can** increase number of opportunities to “connect the dots.”**

Ask Questions

Similar to Steve Blank’s model of “getting out the building,” asking thought provoking questions can lead to big ideas. It’s also an important step because it exposes an individual to the inner workings of a specific process or product (osmosis?.) Innovators tend to challenge the status quo, and they aren’t concerned about “asking the wrong question.” The questions they ask stem from a desire to fully understand the “how and why.”


Innovators spend time observing the world around them. I’ve heard of many corporate executives who sit for hours and hours, watching customers interact with specific products or services. These observations spark new ideas, and lead to new ways of doing business.


I have made it my goal to network the right way – by investing in relationships instead of passing out dozens of business cards over the course of an evening. Quality trumps quantity, and developing a network of people who you can trust is extremely important. It’s also critical to draw from a variety of interests. As someone who loves business, art is not a passion of mine, yet that doesn’t mean I should avoid networking with them. On the contrary, I should seek relationships with individuals with different backgrounds – it leads to bigger and better ideas.

Constant Experimentation

Lastly, innovators are constantly experimenting and testing assumptions. Fueled by the desire to learn, these people aren’t afraid to try new things, and yes, that means failure is part of the equation. Obviously certain individuals are more “hands-on” than others, but that doesn’t eliminate the need to experiment. From my limited amount of experience, experimentation is by far the most enjoyable – it’s tangible!