Reading something like this would normally intimidate me. That was until I started studying innovation, imagination and creativity in preparation for the upcoming Global Spa and Wellness Summit in Aspen, CO this June.
The Great Debate: Are Innovators Born or Made?
Like many people, I assumed that creativity is a trait or “gift.” You are either born with it or not. In my mind, I’m an “or not,” especially if I compare myself to people like Steve Jobs. Then I picked up the first textbook in my self-taught course, Innovation 101, titled The Innovator’s DNA. Authors Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen wrote that there have been many research studies showing (quite conclusively) that creative skills are not simply genetic traits but that they can be developed. I’ve heard it before, and yet I was still not totally convinced…until I read this:
“Imagine that you have an identical twin, endowed with the same brains and natural talents that you have. You’re both given one week to come up with a creative new business idea. During that week, you come up with ideas alone, just thinking in your room. By contrast, your twin:
- Talks with ten people – including an engineer, a musician, a stay-at-home dad, and a designer – about the venture
- Visits three innovative start-ups to observe what they do
- Samples five “new to the market” products and takes them apart
- Shows a prototype he’s built to five people, and
- Asks “What if I tried this?” and “What would make this not work?” at least ten times each day during these networking, observing, and experimenting activities.
Who do you bet will come up with the more innovative (and usable) idea? My guess is that you’d bet on your twin, and not because he/she has better natural genetic creative abilities. Of course, the anchor weight of genetics is still there, but it is not the dominant predictor. People can learn to more capably come up with innovative solutions to problems by acting in the way that your twin did.”
Light bulb! I have an identical twin, and we’ve learned a thing or two over the years about how this nature/nurture thing works. Sure, we have similar genetic traits (as in buying our mom the same birthday card even though we lived 1,000 miles apart), but we have also developed our own set of unique traits and, in these areas, one of us clearly excels markedly over the other.
The Dyer, Gregersen and Christensen trio have done all of us non-believers (aka “or nots”) a huge favor here. They’ve made it abundantly clear that anyone can become innovative, imaginative and creative, and it is not just for a few lucky countries, companies or people. Maybe you have suggestions for how we can strengthen our innovation, imagination and creativity muscles. (And I’m not talking crunches, lunges and squats.) Join the conversation, and stay tuned for the next Weekender!