Last Updated Dec 4, 2009 6:33 PM EST
This is what researchers from Harvard Business School, Insead and Brigham Young University set out to find when they undertook a six-year study of over 500 entrepreneurs and 3,000 executives. Their results have been published in "The Innovator's DNA," an article in this month's Harvard Business Review.
So what did they find out? Here are the five skills shared by great innovators:
- 1. Associating: "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," researcher Hal Gregersen, a professor at Insead, told CNN.com.
- 2. Observing: Spending time with other innovators and watching them in action is crucial to innovative thinking.
- 3. Networking: While this is a key for most successful business people, true innovators will take their networking efforts beyond their own peers and industry. "Data says that people who have more varied connections hear more diverse information, and see patterns before other people," Gregersen told CNN.
- 4. Questioning: Continually asking questions such as "What if I tried this?" or "Why do you do that?" while networking with and observing other innovators is important.
- 5. Experimenting: Most innovators don't get it right the first time; building prototypes and showing them to others for feedback are vital to eventually getting it right.
Microscope image courtesy of Flickr user Biology Big Brother, CC 2.0