This election year will bring with it endless sound bites on the state of our economy and the growth of business since the start of our Great Recession. The Small Business Administration recently released some statistics and they are numbing: While Americans are creating more new businesses now than they have in the past 15 years, half of those start-ups won’t reach their fifth anniversary! Of those survivors, only a third will last 10 years. So what will make the difference between the winners and the losers in this race for business survival? According to the authors of The Innovator’s DNA—Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, that’s a question of nature vs. nurture.

Before writing their book, Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen interviewed a hundred inventors, founders and CEOs of companies like Apple, Google and Amazon. Surprising to some is that the authors’ three decades of research find that entrepreneurs and typical business executives don’t differ much when it comes to personality traits. What distinguishes those game-changers from ordinary managers is their mastery and use of five discovery skills: associating, questioning, observing, networking and experimenting.

What’s great about The Innovator’s DNA is that it opens up the world of success to everyone. Sure, there are those like Edison and Jobs who seem to have a genetic gift allowing them to be, as the authors describe, “more intuitive and divergent thinkers.” But research shows that it isn’t an all or nothing. These traits can be developed and perfected.

Although all skills are critical, questioning seems to matter the most. Innovators, the authors write, are consummate questioners. They ask to understand, to challenge the status quo and to imagine the possibilities of change. It is this search for deeper understanding which allows them, along with observation, networking and experimentation, to connect the unconnected.

The book is full of examples on how the subject use the five tools of the innovation trade to succeed. In

fact, the second half of the book focuses on the DNA of the world’s most innovative companies, how these corporations embrace and nurture certain personnel and how their philosophies and processes support discovery. But to me, the real gems are found within each chapter highlighting the skills any of us can harness to infuse ourselves with the DNA of a creator. There are tips in each area designed to help us think differently, spark ideas and then have the nerve to innovate.

This book, along with my interview of author Jeff Dyer (available at, gives me that courage. I’ve often marveled at the fact we are all born original, yet so many of us spend the rest of our lives trying to be copies. And, soon after we’re born, we barrage our parents with endless questions. Through the years, we curb our uniqueness, accept the status quo and stop asking ‘why’ or ‘why not.’ When we do, we lose out not only on the wonder of the world around us, but also on the potential for greatness. Thank goodness it is something each of us can get back and it is not set into our DNA.

Benjamin Ola. Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University. Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande