Thursday, August 11, 2011

Associational Thinking

I love this term from The Innovator's DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators (2011) by Clayton Christensen, Jeff Dyer, and Hal Gregersen - - "associational thinking."  It means simply associating, where associating happens as the brain tries to synthesize and make sense of novel inputs.  It helps innovators discover new directions by making connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.  Innovative breakthroughs often happen at the intersection of diverse disciplines and fields.

The book points out that innovators engage in the following four behavioral skills more frequently:
  1. Questioning - - Innovators are consummate questioners who show a passion for inquiry.  Their queries challenge the status quo.  Collectively, their questions provoke new insights, connections, possibilities, and directions.  Innovators have a high Q/A ratio (this is great!!) - - where questions not only outnumber answers in a typical conversation, but are valued at least as highly as good answers.
  2. Observing - - Innovators are also intense observers.  They carefully watch the world around them - - including customers, products, services, technologies, and companies - - and the observations help them gain insights into and ideas for new ways of doing things.
  3. Networking - - Innovators spend a lot of time and energy finding and testing ideas through a diverse network of individuals who vary wildly in their backgrounds and perspectives.  Rather than simply doing social networking or networking for resources, they actively search for new ideas by talking to people who may offer a radically different view of things.
  4. Experimenting - - Finally, innovators are constantly trying out new experiences and piloting new ideas.  Experimenters unceasingly explore the world intellectually and experimentally, holding convictions at bay and testing hypotheses along the way.  They visit new places, try new things, seek new information and experiment to learn new things.

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