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Deconstructing the Innovator's DNA

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2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Indianapolis, Indiana

Publication Date

June 15, 2014

Start Date

June 15, 2014

End Date

June 18, 2014



Conference Session

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation Research Technical Session 7

Tagged Division

Entrepreneurship & Engineering Innovation

Page Count


Page Numbers

24.354.1 - 24.354.12



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Paper Authors


Paul D. Mathis Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Paul Mathis is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education and a council member for the ASEE student chapter at Purdue University. He has a bachelor's degree in physical science and a master's in education curriculum. His areas of interest are design, innovation, creativity and improving skills of future engineers.

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Nicholas D. Fila Purdue University, West Lafayette

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Nicholas D. Fila is a Ph.D. student in the School of Engineering Education at Purdue University, West Lafayette. His research interests include how engineering students approach, learn, and internalize design, especially in teams. He has co-authored a book chapter on teamwork and innovation, and has authored conference and journal papers on design, innovation, teamwork, and engineering laboratories.

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Senay Purzer Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

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Decoding Innovators DNAInnovation helps transform companies and markets at a global and national scale. Recentresearch has identified individual skills that experts describe as essential to their successfulinnovations. These five skills, embodied in The Innovators DNA include associating,experimenting, networking, observing, and questioning. While, the Innovators DNA describeshow these skills are used and contribute to innovative ideas, it does not explain which of theseskills are more important or how these behaviors are linked. The purpose of this study is todevelop a better understanding of the five innovative skills through a content analysis of expertinnovators. More specifically we answered the following questions: a) which of the five skillsdo innovators most frequently use first in their innovation process? ; b) with which of the fiveskills do innovators most often conclude the innovation process? c) which sequence of skills doinnovators most frequently use? ; d) which skills are central to innovation?In order to address the above research questions, we collected case studies of individualinnovators from three bestseller innovation books: The Innovators DNA, The Ten Faces ofInnovation, and The Medici Effect. Our sample comprised over 50 examples of successfulinnovations by recognized experts. We conducted a content analysis using a protocol thatincludes five skills identified in The Innovators DNA: observation, questioning, experimenting,networking, and association.Our analysis indicates that a majority of successful innovators have a distinct pattern of behaviorfor discovery. Expert innovators began their process with observation and concluded withexperimenting. The most frequent sequence of skills used was observation to questioning toexperimenting. The skills most central to innovation were observation and questioning. Based onthese results and those of related studies, we make recommendations for further research relatedto educating innovative engineers and identifying pathways to innovation.

Mathis, P. D., & Fila, N. D., & Purzer, S. (2014, June), Deconstructing the Innovator's DNA Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--20245

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