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The Innovator's Way

The Innovator's Way: Essential Practices for Successful Innovation

foreword by John Seely Brown
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 464
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  • Book Info
    The Innovator's Way
    Book Description:

    Innovation is the ruling buzzword in business today. Technology companies invest billions in developing new gadgets; business leaders see innovation as the key to a competitive edge; policymakers craft regulations to foster a climate of innovation. And yet businesses report a success rate of only four percent for innovation initiatives. Can we significantly increase our odds of success? In The Innovator's Way, innovation experts Peter Denning and Robert Dunham reply with an emphatic yes. Innovation, they write, is not simply an invention, a policy, or a process to be managed. It is a personal skill that can be learned, developed through practice, and extended into organizations. Denning and Dunham identify and describe eight personal practices that all successful innovators perform: sensing, envisioning, offering, adopting, sustaining, executing, leading, and embodying. Together, these practices can boost a fledgling innovator to success. Weakness in any of these practices, they show, blocks innovation. Denning and Dunham chart the path to innovation mastery, from individual practices to teams and social networks.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28933-7
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior, Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    John Seely Brown

    Oh no, I first thought when I opened my email from Peter Denning asking if I would consider doing a foreword for his forthcoming book on innovation. Without even looking at the book, my mind peppered me with questions. Does the world really need one more book talking about the secrets, challenges, or myths of innovation and why it is hard or easy? Another book on product innovation, or creativity and invention? Another book that sidesteps the more complex issue of institutional innovation

    But my hesitations were quickly put to rest. This is not “another book.” It is refreshing and...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
    Peter Denning and Robert Dunham
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Prologue: Pasteur and the Dying Cows
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)

    In the 1870s, a strange disease was decimating the French sheep and cattle industries.¹ The French farmers were completely baffled by the mounting toll of dead cows and sheep; the cause,anthrax bacillus, had not yet been identified and named. Without effect, the farmers tried every conventional method to protect their animals, including quarantine of the sick and immediate burial of the dead. France’s economic position was in grave peril.

    The French Department of Agriculture encouraged Louis Pasteur to become involved. Pasteur was already well known in France for his work in the science of microbes. He had previously demonstrated...

  7. I Foundations of Innovation

    • 1 Invention Is Not Enough
      (pp. 3-30)

      Innovation is one of the most vexing challenges of our time. According toBusiness Weekin August 2005, our overall success rate with innovation initiatives is an abysmal 4 percent. Many people have grown impatient with the staggering waste of energy and resources invested with such a poor return. We cannot hide from this problem because innovation is essential for personal, business, and economic success.

      Our collective effort to meet this challenge has been prodigious. In September 2009, Amazon. com reported 9,300 printed books with innovation in their titles. Yet all our effort and ingenuity has not lifted us to...

    • 2 Generative Innovators in Action
      (pp. 31-48)

      We introduce seven innovators who are mentioned frequently throughout this book. They are exemplars of the eight practices in action. For quick reference, we display the eight practices on the wheel shown in figure 2.1. This picture suggests that the practices are all integrated into a nonsequential, coherent whole and style in the person of the innovator. In our presentations that follow we will focus on how our innovators performed the first seven practices, leaving the discussion of the eighth practice for chapter 12.

      Here is a summary of the seven innovators and what they did. Tim Berners-Lee invented the...

    • 3 Frames of Mind
      (pp. 49-76)

      Thomas Kuhn, author ofThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions(1962), showed us that we are all members of communities of practice. A community has a shared belief system—its way of interpreting the world and associated practices—that Kuhn called its paradigm. Sooner or later, he said, we encounter events or phenomena that our accepted paradigm cannot explain or respond to. He called such events anomalies. As long as the anomalies are not too common or troublesome, we tolerate them. But when faced with an accumulation of anomalies too big to ignore, we become open to the possibility that we...

    • 4 Observing
      (pp. 77-108)

      When the innovator’s work is done, it is said, people see things differently than they did before. This niblet of folk wisdom holds the key to the innovator’s skill. The innovator sees things differently before starting to work. The key is in how the innovator observes.

      Practitioners in every field have acquired the skill of looking at the world in a particular way that empowers them to make distinctions and take actions. A physician is trained to see things in human bodies that signal illness, diagnose the illness, and prescribe a treatment. A construction engineer is trained to see things...

  8. II The Eight Practices

    • 5 Practice One: Sensing
      (pp. 111-140)

      Every innovation begins with a new possibility. Who can not find possibilities can not innovate. Finding worthy possibilities turns out to be a challenge for many people.

      How often instead of “Eureka!” have we said, “I wish I’d thought of that!” Or, “How come I can’t think up new ideas?”

      Is finding new possibilities the result of brainpower? Serendipity? Creativity? Luck? Circumstance? Working environment? While these things are important, they are not essential. Growing good ideas into possibilities is a practice. It is a practice of listening and observing for disharmonies and asking what is possible if the disharmony could...

    • 6 Practice Two: Envisioning
      (pp. 141-172)

      The seedling of innovation, sprouted as a fragile possibility in the sensing practice, must be carefully cultivated in the ground of other people’s consideration. We do this through the envisioning practice.

      Envisioning is about crystallizing the possibility that arose in sensing into a story about how the possibility will appear and be valuable in the future of the adopting audience. In other words, envisioning practice is all about good storytelling. A compelling story captures hearts and imaginations. It diagnoses a problem or missing opportunity and shows a path to resolution. It provokes new thought and new action. It conveys a...

    • 7 Practice Three: Offering
      (pp. 173-186)

      Our proposed innovation begins its journey from an idea to an adopted practice when we make an offer to bring it into the world.

      The act of making an offer seems simple enough. We make offers by the dozens from simple to sublime: we hold a door open for someone, extend a hand to someone in need, discuss our skills during interviews, present our projects, propose business plans, put up Web pages about our services, or market our products worldwide. So it should be equally easy to offer up our innovation.

      Not necessarily. Many of our listeners will not accept...

    • 8 Practice Four: Adopting
      (pp. 187-202)

      Adoption occurs three times in every innovation: in the mind, in the hand, and in the body. The first adoption occurs when people in a community commit to considering the idea of a new practice. The second adoption occurs when they commit to trying their hand at it for the first time. The third adoption occurs when they commit to sustain it over time. The first adoption is the outcome of the offering practice, the second the outcome of the adopting practice, and the third the outcome of the sustaining practice. We will examine now the work of the adopting...

    • 9 Practice Five: Sustaining
      (pp. 203-218)

      Sustaining is the third and final practice of the adoption triad. Sustaining is about keeping the innovation relevant and useful after adoption—integrating and fitting the new practice into the environment of the community so that it can be continued easily. The environment is likely to be a complex social system with many practices and technologies. We want the new practice to compete well for time and attention in the environment: to continue to offer more value than other options for its purpose.

      Many factors figure into sustainability—for example, learnability, support, supply, maintenance, alignment, comfort, and commitment. These factors...

    • 10 Practice Six: Executing
      (pp. 219-240)

      In innovation, execution refers to the actions that convert the possibility offered into a promise delivered. Execution is essential not only for the final outcome of the innovation process, but also for all the outcomes of the individual practices. Intermediate results, such as prototypes and demonstrations, build trust in the promise and its value through evidence.

      Much has been written on project management, planning, marketing, and executing. We will not repeat that here. Our focus here is on the conversational practices of execution that enable the innovator to turn offers into effective, trustworthy, delivered promises.

      In innovation practice, the term...

    • 11 Practice Seven: Leading
      (pp. 241-256)

      Leading is the skill of initiating possibility and action with others through conversations that evoke their commitment to a new future. It infuses all the other innovation practices, providing the actions to generate followers for the innovation.

      There are many leadership styles (Bennis 2003; Greenleaf 2002; Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee 2002; Dupree 2004). One is especially well suited for innovation. It is the style in which the leader initiates the movement and then gets out of the way of followers so deftly that they think they did it themselves. Other styles do not produce a deep individual commitment to stick...

    • 12 Practice Eight: Embodying
      (pp. 257-288)

      The innovator’s challenge is to get the members of a community to embody a new practice. When that is accomplished, they will speak differently, act differently, feel differently, and even see the world differently. To meet that challenge, the innovator has to manage and maintain coherence among the three dimensions of every practice: language, body, and moods-emotions. This chapter is about how to achieve coherence, not only for the community, but also in the innovator’s own practice.

      It should be obvious that the dimensions of language, body, and moods-emotions are interconnected and mutually interacting. We just need to recall times...

  9. III Journey to Mastery

    • 13 Building a Culture of Innovation
      (pp. 291-312)

      Few of us innovate alone. We join organizations, where we pool our skills with the skills of many others, and work collectively toward goals that no one of us could achieve alone. What are the implications of the eight practices of innovation for organizations?

      We have devoted the previous twelve chapters to establishing that the eight generative practices are not discretionary. Innovations happen because people in conversations make each of the eight essential outcomes happen. Innovations will not succeed without all eight outcomes. Our main purpose in this chapter is to demonstrate that the eight generative practices are essential for...

    • 14 Mastering the Mess
      (pp. 313-342)

      Have you ever found yourself in a mess, a tangled social situation that is too costly to stay in and too intransigent to get out of? Messes are also called wicked problems. The people involved are frustrated because they cannot reconcile their concerns. Their search for solutions produces few results and seems open ended amid constantly shifting constraints (Denning 2007; Roberts 2000, 2001). The end state is a moving target (Reeves and Lemke 1991). Those involved cannot bring together their proposed solutions or find healthy compromises. They actively resist the proposals of others.

      When messes are resolved, the people will...

    • 15 Social Networking and Innovation
      (pp. 343-364)

      Remarkable innovations are coming from unmanaged social networks of people who use the Internet to communicate and coordinate. In doing so, they defy the conventional wisdom that innovation must be managed. We are interested in how participation in social networks increases the success rate of innovations.

      We use the termsocial networkingto mean participating voluntarily in communities of people in order to pursue shared interests. Social scientists have used this term for years to refer to the ways people develop connections in social systems and use them to build “social capital,” the accumulated trust that opens action. A social...

    • 16 Dispositions of the Masters
      (pp. 365-378)

      The masters of a field are its most powerful performers. They make the difficult seem easy, the sweaty seem pleasurable, the complex seem simple. They bring understanding where once was confusion. Their innovations are game changing, not just game improving. They transform the discourse and practices of their field. They inspire others to their own new heights. With uncanny shrewdness the masters bring many elements together:

      They understand their communities intimately.

      They read people’s deep and often hidden concerns.

      They build compelling visions that people crave to make their own.

      They create offers hard to resist in light of the...

  10. Epilogue: Stradivarius Street
    (pp. 379-380)

    It is the year 1720. You, a traveler, arrive in the Italian town of Cremona in search of the best violins made. You look on the street of the violin shops. At the mouth of the street, immediately to the left, you see the shop of the Guarneri family. In its window is a very large sign with majestic calligraphy:Best Violins in All of Italy. Farther down on the right you see the shop belonging to the Gagliano family. In its window is an even grander sign:Best Violins in the Whole World. Down at the far end of...

  11. Appendix 1: Eight Practices Summary Chart
    (pp. 381-384)
  12. Appendix 2: Eight Practices Assessment Tool
    (pp. 385-388)
  13. Appendix 3: Levels of Performance at Innovation
    (pp. 389-394)
  14. Appendix 4: Somatic Exercises
    (pp. 395-400)
  15. About the Authors
    (pp. 401-402)
  16. Index
    (pp. 403-434)