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Innovation can be said to be the backbone of today’s market economy. Different companies are always trying to outdo each other by launching better and more efficient products and services. Innovativeness keeps entrepreneurs in business. Entrepreneurs who do not possess the skill are easily driven out of the market or overshadowed by the more aggressive counterparts. Innovator’s DNA (2011) reveals, “the power of innovative ideas to revolutionize industries and generate wealth is evident from history: Apple iPod out plays Sony Walkman” (para.1). therefore, innovation helps entrepreneurs to gain a competitive advantage and sustainability. This paper will present my personal insights from the assessment of the iDNA course on innovation, indicating my strengths and weaknesses as an innovator. Additionally, the paper will demonstrate how innovation can benefit an organization.
Personal Insights from the Assessments
Innovator’s DNA (iDNA) is a course assessment that generates profiles of individuals to determine their personal strengths as innovators. The information is backed by years of in-depth research on business innovation. I have found the insights quite helpful in shaping my skills as a young innovator. My first lesson from DNA was that innovators are not much different from the ordinary leader. However, they possess five key traits that enable them to stay ahead in business: questioning, observing, networking, associating, and experimenting (Innovator’s DNA, 2013). In this section, I offer insights gained from reading the innovation assessment presented by DNA.
An overarching trait of innovators is the ability to question anything. This spirit of interrogation comes from an inborn curiosity to understand how things are done. Innovators ask questions such as, “why not?” and “what if” to help them in envisioning different ways of doing things. The innovator’s mind is programmed to devise solutions, whether the process involves coming up with a very new idea or improving an existing one. In their book, The Innovator’s DNA, Dyer, Gregersen, and Christensen (2011) argue that innovators demonstrate an insatiable quest for knowledge by asking questions that challenge the status quo. I remember in junior high school I used to bombard my math teacher with endless questions about how some formulas used in calculation hadbeen arrived at. In my mind, I dreamed about inventing formulas that would be easier to follow. Neither my classmates nor my teacher understood me. In fact, they must have thought that I was annoying. Looking back, though, I feel that my endless questions were pointing to a valuable skill I possessed as a potential entrepreneur: questioning.
Over the years, I have interacted with some notable entrepreneurs. One common behavior about them is that they ask questions. One summer, I was working for a medium-sized bakery in Manhattan. What struck me about my boss, the innovator, was his tendency to ask questions to customers, suppliers, and even employees. He seemed always to be on the lookout for an elusive piece of information. He asked questions about competitors’ businesses, including whether employees liked working in the place. I never gave his behavior much thought until after college when I was attempting a start-up in the technology business. I developed a deep interest in obtaining information through asking questions, reading, and even watching online tutorial videos. With time, I discovered that the questioning spirit was a reflection of what goes on in the mind of an entrepreneur. I cannot count the number of times I have fallen out with people for asking “too many” questions.
I consider myself a strict observer. It pays in my current line of business when I can spot even the faintest stain on a table in my rival’s restaurant. Many non-innovators overlook the importance of being able to pay keen attention to details. I always tell myself that it took Charles Darwin enormous efforts at paying attention to discover evolution. Darwin himself admitted in his writings to have spent long hours observing plants and animals on the islands of South Pacific. It is no wonder that scholars today view Darwin as a great experimental innovator (Galenson & Pope, 2013). Therefore, observing is a critical acquisition of individuals who wish to improve their innovation capability. Observing helps discover of customer behavior patterns which arise because of inconveniences caused by unmet needs. Focus groups and surveys help innovators gain hold of important information that may lead to continuous innovation.
Observation can be a difficult skill to develop since many people have learned to overrely on analytical thinking because of long years of schooling. Cramer (2010) argues that developing strong observational skills calls for an individual to “switch off” their left-brain, which is the analytical part. Through years of practice, I have learned to set aside my formed opinion and prior knowledge that I may have about an opportunity. This strategy has helped me to maintain an open mind, thus enhancing my chances of making a discovery. In innovation, no detail is too small. I have also learned to absorb details without being judgmental. Staying objective can protect the mind from being clouded by prejudice. Another habit I have developed regarding my observational skills is that of refraining from categorizing data that I obtain. I learned long ago the need to maintain a scope of the whole picture as opposed to zeroing in on a specific detail, then missing a more promising opportunity. Importantly, observation goes hand in hand with asking questions since not everything observed will be out rightly clear to the innovator.
Dyer et al. (2013) describe association as the ability to link seemingly unrelated aspects. Association is a cognitive skill that enables innovators to connect ideas that would normally seem unrelatable. Mark Zuckerberg is said to have conceived Facebook from connecting the need by students to maintain constant communication and the expensive telecommunication costs (Carlson, 2010). Many more illustrations exist, which all point to the essence of association in the innovation world. In fact, Dyer et al. (2013) describe associating as being “central to the innovator’s DNA” (p. 3). As an innovator, I have worked tirelessly to improve my association skills. I have been thinking about ways to improve the menu in my two restaurants to include new specials without incurring huge costs. To accomplish this mission, I will need to observe customer behaviors and perform product tests. After reading DNA’s assessment course, I believe improving my association skill will help me to improvise an effective menu that will excite my customers again.
Despite having strengths in questioning, observation, and associating, I realize that as an innovator I have weaknesses in two key areas: experimentation and networking. DNA emphasizes networking as an element of innovation (Innovator’s DNA, 2013). I have missed many opportunities to connect with people who could have given me insights and perspectives to solve problems in my business. Innovator’s DNA (2013) observes that innovators constantly engage people who are different from them to gain a diverse angle to life. Looking at my life, most of my friends are fellow restaurateurs. I have missed birthday parties, excursions, and football matches, events that could have helped me to connect with people. While maintaining constant contact with my customers is important, I realize the need to interact with people outside my career. This plan will help me to discover unexplored opportunities, which I can then reinvest them in my business.
What does experimentation mean in the context of innovation? Arguably, not every idea generated in the innovator’s mind can be successfully tried and implemented. Some ideas are ‘too wild,’ so to say. One way to find out, which idea works is through constant experimentation or putting the idea to the test to establish its plausibility. Dyer et al. (2011) observe how innovators “unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experientially, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way” (p. 24). Steve Jobs, one of the greatest innovators of the modern world, was known for his experimental spirit. His varied experiences paid off when his company, Apple Inc., became the best mobile and computer manufacturer in the world.
Many companies today are stuck with old tricks and “boring products” because they deliberately avoid experimenting on new opportunities. The fear of failure is perhaps the greatest impediment of experimentation. An experimenter would welcome the chance by try and failing, as opposed to not trying at all. When I was launching my first eatery, I faced stiff competition from established supply chains such as McDonald’s and Chick-Fil-a. However, my partner and I spent hours on end looking for a weak link that we could use to cut a niche for our business. The gap could be delayed orders, overpriced menu items, or even long queues at entry points. We then piloted the ideas we had gained from our observation. Luckily, customers began noticing and entering our small eatery. However, my partner’s adeptness at experimentation pushed us to pilot our ideas. As an innovator, I realize I need to work on my experimentation skill.
Part II: Insights from the Course
I have often defined innovation as “a new idea.” However, thinking broadly reveals innovation as the application of creative approaches that are capable of giving rise to solutions that relate to the emerging issues. Today’s world is characterized by ever-changing market trends and increasingly new customer demands. In attempting to meet these needs, manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers create effective products, services, processes, and technology. The term innovation as such would refer to originality. The inventiveness is manifested in a product or service that is more efficient compared to the previously existing ones. In economics and other related fields, innovation is a broad term that describes the process of combining novel ideas that result in new effective products, services, or processes.
I have come to associate innovators with creative intelligence. Dyer et al. (2011) argue that creative intelligence is something that promotes discovery, although is not related to other forms of astuteness. Howard Gardner famously suggested that people have different types of intelligence (Gardner, 2011). Therefore, following Gardner’s (2011) theories and Dyer et al.’s (2011) assertion, I have concluded that innovators have unique mental capabilities. I believe that creative intelligence enables entrepreneurs to approach challenges from a different perspective relative to everyone else in an attempt to discover probable solutions in the process. In contrast, many people prefer using the tested methods and trying as much as possible to avoid venturing into the “unknown.”
Nevertheless, innovation is also a skill. Dyer et al. (2011) found that genetic elements are only responsible for one-third of creative intelligence. The remaining 33% is developed through practice, constantly solving challenges, hence gaining confidence in one’s ability to think outside the box. This argument points to the skill of associating. Frans Johanson termed associating as the “Medici Effect,” referring to the famous coming together of different professionals [painters, scientists, sculptors, and poets], a move that resulted in the robust ideas of Renaissance (Locke et al., 2015). Innovators are comfortable when operating out of their comfort because it challenges them to think creatively. Therefore, just like other skills, innovation can be developed through constant practice.
However, not everyone can thrive as an innovator. The DNA course has identified three kinds of leaders based on the strength of their various leadership skills. Discovery skills, which are commonly associated with innovation, include questioning, observation, experimentation, associating, and networking. Entrepreneurs who possess most of these five skills are capable of striking bright ideas that can transform how an organization does business. On the other hand, executors are great at delivering results. They possess the following skills: analyzing, planning, detail-oriented, and self-discipline. According to Innovator’s DNA (2013), executors perform the indispensable role of converting innovators’ ideas into tangible results. Without executors, the ideas generated by innovators would be ineffective in an organization scenario. Midway between innovators and executors are developers who combine the skills of both the innovators and executors. Although they are not as effective as innovators or developers, developers can optimize both sets of skills for the best results.
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Innovation is an integral component of today’s market-driven economy. For organizations, innovation means implementing novel ideas, creating new products, and improving the existing services. Innovation can serve as a catalyst to promote growth and success in business. It can help an entrepreneur adapt to a competitive and challenging marketplace. Being innovative is not strictly limited to the invention. A person who changes his or her business model to adapt to the changing market is innovative. Indeed, many businesses that succeed in a competitive market bespeak of innovativeness. By establishing more efficient work strategies, innovation increases the chances of a business to succeed. Therefore, successful innovation is an inbuilt element of the business strategy that leads the owner’s way of innovative thinking while at the same time assisting in creative problem solving.
Competitive advantage is an organization’s ability to produce goods and services at a lower cost relative to the expenses incurred by its competitors. Competitive advantage allows a firm to stay ahead in the market space because of the enormous efficiencies gained. Innovation as atool of business has been used successfully by organizations in gaining competitive advantage. Urbancová (2013) argues that the 21st century is based on an innovative economy, which reflects advancement in knowledge and information. Organization’s success is dependent on the ability of employees to maximize the existing knowledge, creativity for continuous development, and innovation. Tushman and Nadler stated, “Organizations can gain competitive advantage only by managing effectively for today while simultaneously creating innovation for tomorrow (Urbancová, 2013, p. 82). This statement is a summary of the crucial role that innovation plays in ensuring that an organization stays in business by constantly churning out new products and services that excite customers.
The technology used in production processes changes rapidly, often becoming cheaper. Organizations that can take advantage of the emerging technologies benefit immensely from producing at a cheaper cost. For instance, Tesla Motors began producing electric cars long before its competitors envisioned the idea. Today, Tesla operates on economies of scale in areas such as the battery market and vehicle software (Wang, Gaustad, Babbitt, & Richa, 2014). The case of Tesla illustrates innovation since the company was able to foresee challenges caused by continued use of gasoline-powered cars. As other manufacturers begin turning around to produce environmentally friendly cars, they are trailing behind Tesla.
Nidumolu, Prahalad, and Rangaswami (2009) argue that organizations are currently approaching innovation as a driver to sustainability. As governments tighten laws relating to pollution, more businesses are moving toward “green” products and services. Additionally, organizations would wish to appeal to potential customers by appearing to be eco-friendly. For instance, Whirlpool engaged in deep brainstorming that resulted in the launching of a green supply chain and eco-friendly warehouses. Sustainable manufacturing calls for new equipment and processes that can only be attained through continuous innovation (Nidumolu et al., 2009). As opposed to the past when companies dreaded sustainability, more organizations are now warming up to the idea, thus treating sustainability as the new frontier for innovation. This change of attitude itself demonstrates innovativeness where challenges are treated as opportunities.
Course Concepts, which are Significant to Me
Understanding one’s strengths can be extremely helpful in the business environment. The DNA course assessment enables me to understand my strengths in innovation. It is important to appreciate that an organization benefits equally from the diverse qualities of innovators, executors, and developers. Overlying on either leadership profile can lead to imbalance, generating great ideas that never see the light of the day, or implementing the same old ideas (Innovator’s DNA, 2013). Developers have average innovative and delivery skills. However, they have the benefit of ambidexterity. By combing innovative and execution skills, developers can inspire a balanced and incremental growth for an organization. Personally, I found the idea of balancing the two leadership profiles an important lesson.
Combining innovation and execution leadership profiles can benefit the organization in several ways. First, innovators can steer creativity in the organization by conceiving new ideas, technologies, and processes. Any organization requires continuous development that is attained by engaging new ways of doing things. Many organizations have been unsuccessful because of failing to adapt to the emerging trends. The market has been altered since customers’ expectations have changed. For instance, with the advent of online shopping, customers often expect the delivery of their orders within a reasonably short time, a situation, which places immense pressure on businesses. New ideas on how to meet these demands must be conceived, often through brainstorming. This role in an organization is performed by innovators.
Executors ensure ideas generated through innovation are followed up and implemented. It is usual for great ideas to be shelved for lack of the ability to implement them. Executors possess four critical skills that make them adept at implementing great ideas. Executors are analytical. The trait enables them to approach data carefully by identifying key areas to focus on during implementation. Executors also analyze the financial strengths of the organization, including how to avoid going into debt. Another characteristic of executors is being planners. They follow carefully planned and detailed schedules, ensuring all goals are achieved within the specified times. Executors are also detail-oriented. They do not take figures, however small, for granted. Finally, executors are self-disciplined. Dyer et al. (2011) assert that executors are fond of sticking to rules. Additionally, they hold themselves accountable for the delivery of results. This observation explains their ability to achieve within deadlines.
From the DNA course assessment, my leadership profile fits that of a developer.Therefore, my restaurant business can benefit from my ambidexterity: being able to innovate and execute. A developer is responsible for maintaining consistency in an organization by balancing the diverse skills. By leveraging their discovery skills capabilities, innovators can obtain new ideas that will keep the business alive. In the case of my restaurant, innovative ideas may involve revamping the menu to include new specials, offers, and repeat dinners. Restaurants face the challenge of intense competition, which makes it necessary to reinvent the menu to keep attracting new customers while retaining the older ones. Therefore, innovativeness is vital in running a successful restaurant business.
At the same time, leveraging my execution skills [planning and being detail-oriented], I can ensure all great ideas generated are implemented. Being detailed-oriented implies that I can observe customer trends and use the information to improve the menu of my restaurant. Additionally, being a good planner would enable me to set schedules, monitor the progress of the implemented ideas, hence establishing the ones that are bound to work. This plan would help the restaurant to avoid sticking to unbeneficial ideas. Additionally, my delivery skills will ensure that information on customer trends obtained from social media platforms can be plowed into future strategies for the business.
Innovation is the tool that drives the modern market-dependent economy. By allowing entrepreneurs to bring new ideas to life, innovation assists businesses to attain a competitive advantage. However, not all individuals demonstrate strong innovative skills. Some are executors who ensure that the ideas generated by innovation are implemented. Therefore, a good organization tries to balance both leadership profiles to attain optimal results. It is also important as an entrepreneur to balance between being an innovator and being an executor, the result being a versatile profile [developer] that enforces balance within a business.
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