Questions for sparking a management voyage of discovery

19 February 2015 -


When management meets innovation, you have to challenge the status quo. Here are some tips for how you can set up a personal development plan to change the world, instead of just accepting it

Caitlin Mackesey-Davies

Jeff Bezos: he’s the brains behind, he’s brilliant – and wouldn’t you like to be just a bit more like him? The first step is to dust off your discovery skills, and get together a personal development plan.

Experimentation, observation and interrogation of the world are the skills at the core of the innovator’s arsenal, and the first is where Bezos really excels, says Professor Hal Gregersen, professor of leadership at the Insead business school and co-author of The Innovator’s DNA: “Bezos is absolutely out to experiment with the world around him and within Amazon. For him, the question is: how can I reduce the cost of experimentation so that I get thousands of experiments happening and not hundreds? Because the more we have, the more great ideas we’ve got that will make a difference.”

But injecting a bit of Bezos into your own business may not be easy. Our skills of discovery and our curiosity about the world – so sharp in childhood – get dulled, if not defeated altogether, by formal education, work cultures and bosses that tell us: “Don’t ask tough questions, don’t take the time to look around, and don’t screw up by trying something new, we can’t afford it” says Professor Gregersen.

But, he asserts: “Every working adult needs to get a new idea. They have got to figure out how to do their job and how to do it better. And these are the skills that allow them to do that.”

How to dare

Question time

Take five minutes each day and write down questions about a problem that you have, Professor Gregersen recommends. They could be related to advancing your career – “how can I get on the senior team?” – or about process improvement in your company, or a new service delivery approach. The more questions you ask yourself, the more ideas you will have about how to solve that challenge.

Seek surprises

“Innovators are fully engaged with their world; they are present” says Professor Gregersen. So turn off that iPod, put down your freesheet newspaper and give yourself a chance to connect with different information. “If I go through a day without surprises, I’m not going to get any new ideas” Professor Gregersen warns.

Watch and learn

Observing is a crucial part of discovery. Make time to look at how things happen, and watch the practice of those who do things differently. Network with people from a different nationality, industry or technical background, who might offer a novel perspective on your problem.

Like a Virgin

Role-play alone or with others in your team and imagine how an innovative company like Virgin, or an entrepreneur like Richard Branson, would view your problem or business. What questions would he ask and how might he approach the answers?

Use the force

Exercising associational thinking – your ability to connect the previously unconnected – is essential. If surprising connections don’t come naturally, force them, Professor Gregersen counsels. It could be by picking a word randomly from a dictionary or magazine, and saying “what does that word have to do with our problem?”

Smart bet

Worried that identifying “problems” will be perceived as showing weaknesses? Professor Gregersen believes companies that encourage discovery are ahead of the game, creating people who make smarter assumptions about where their markets are going or what clients will need.

Show the way

“The difference between a company that has one great idea, versus one that has a constant stream, is leaders who know innovation matters, know how to do it and create an environment where others can do the same” concludes Professor Gregersen.

Find out more

Read Hal Gregersen’s profile at Insead

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