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Deconstructing the Innovator’s Skill

Peter J. Denning, director of the Cebrowski Institute, and Robert Dunham, founder of Enterprise Performance Inc., have spent many years examining the innovator’s skill and teaching it to their students and clients. Over that time, they’ve found that innovation is driven by processes beyond human control and that innovation failures greatly outnumber successes—in other words, that skill makes little difference. But in their search for the innovator’s skill, they found that the key is to understand innovation as adoption of new practice. All innovators are skilled in the same seven practices, with six basic innovator practices around the central hub of leadership.

The first six are:

(1) “sensing”— seeing disharmonies or breakdowns as an opportunity for improvement;
(2) “envisioning”—or the ability to tell vivid, concrete, compelling stories and to design plans of action;
(3) “offering”—in which the innovator proposes to bring the new idea into the world and generates trust in his or her expertise to do so;
(4) “executing”—building teams and organizations and carrying out action plans for reliable delivery;
(5) “adopting”—demonstrating value of proposed adoption so that others can commit to it; and
(6) “sustaining integration”—developing supporting infrastructure.

And the central hub is (7) “leading”—with care, courage, value, power, focus, destiny, and fluency. Anyone can learn the innovation skill by mastering the seven personal practices.

Communications of the ACM May 2005