November 29, 2009
A study by leading UK, French and US business schools has uncovered the 5 secrets to being a successful entrepreneur. They interviewed 3,000 executives and 500 entrepreneurs to identify the key ingredients behind innovative thinking. Interviews included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and Michael Dell, founder of Dell computers.
The universities behind the study, Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University conducted a six-year study that was summed up by Insead’s Hal Gregersen when he told CNN “What the innovators have in common is that they can put together ideas and information in unique combinations that nobody else has quite put together before.”
What is really interesting about this study is the claim that innovative thinking (and presumably action) can be learned. “Studies have shown that creativity is close to 80 percent learned and acquired,” Gregersen also said to CNN. “We found that it’s like exercising your muscles – if you engage in the actions you build the skills.” This finding gives everyone running a business who falling behind competitors, or challenged by a changing marketplace, some hope that they can develop new and better ways to conduct their business.
THE 5 SECRETS TO INNOVATIVE THINKING
- Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.
- Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask “why?”, “why not?” and “what if?”
- Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.
- Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.
- Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.
In practice, these people act in ways that stimulate their inquisitiveness, such as intense questioning of issues and reading beyond their interests. Importantly they tap into their network of people in different fields with different interests, who offer multiple viewpoints about a wide range of topics. Their observation skills are second-to-none, as this is their ‘radar’ to identify trends that can lead to launching a new product or service.
When you look at these factors, there is nothing incredibly unique or breakthrough. It is simply a behaviour that some people do intuitively. It should also be mentioned that not all successful people act this way; many are successful despite their attitudes and actions, perhaps due to some luck or they’re born into money/success/position. In this world where we all seem to want success quickly, these 5 factors show that the ‘secret’ is really to be smart about how you approach any business venture.
The article will be published in the December 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review. Read more on CNN.