Five Mental Habits of Innovative People

Last Updated Oct 16, 2009 11:33 AM EDT

How Innovative People ThinkYesterday we posted a TED talk from Stefan Sagmeister which suggested that one way to boost your creativity was to take a one year sabbatical to Bali. While that's certainly one (very enjoyable) plan, those of us that don't have a one-way ticket to the South Pacific, may still be in the market for other, slightly less expensive, methods to boost our innovative thinking and generate fresh ideas. Thankfully, a recent interview from the HBR editor's blog suggests that the key to improved innovation isn't a tropical vacation (I won't tell the boss if you won't) but rather five habits of mind shared by many successful, innovative business people.
Professors Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead surveyed more than 3,000 creative executives and found that many of these out-of-the-box thinkers shared five mental traits that promoted creativity. What are they?
  • Associating -- a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.
  • Questioning -- an ability to ask "what if", "why", and "why not" questions that challenge the status quo and open up the bigger picture.
  • Observing -- an ability to closely observe details, particularly the details of people's behavior.
  • Experimenting -- innovative people are always trying on new experiences and exploring new worlds.
  • Networking -- creative people are really good at networking with smart people who have little in common with them, but from whom they can learn.
Don't have time to devote to all five mental skills? Dyer and Gregerson suggest that focusing on questioning may pay outsize dividends: "We've found that questioning turbo-charges observing, experimenting, and networking." Still, don't think you can get away with completely ignoring the other skills. The researchers also found that "questioning on its own doesn't have a direct effect without the others." For those interested in learning more, the interview is a fun, fast and informative read.

(Image of happy girl with an idea by pfala, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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