Innovation Starts at the TopCompanies that excel at innovation share certain common characteristics.

They’re creative, leaders in their markets and have a reputation for being “cutting-edge.”

It’s not surprising most businesses want to join this elite circle.

To do so, says Hal Gregersen and Jeff Dyer, PhDs at the University of California, Irvine, and UCLA respectively, innovation must be “consciously cultivated at the leadership level, and then through the organization.”

As Dyer and Gregersen note in an article for Innovation Management, “If company leaders don’t embrace innovative thinking and skills firsthand, the rest of the organization doesn’t stand a chance.”

According to the authors (co-creators of Innovator’s Accelerator), innovation takes place at three levels, all of which “are important to sustain and grow a business.” These levels include:

Levels of Innovation: Growth

This process “transforms a complicated product or idea and simplifies in order to increase access and affordability.”


This is where next-generation products are designed and developed to replace outmoded portfolios or industry product.


Innovative companies constantly focus on creating and driving efficiencies in their products and services.

“Any company can be creative,” say Gregersen and Dyer, “they just need to find the right balance between discovery and development … and ensure they are fostering a culture that supports pushing boundaries and risk taking.”

Innovation Starts at the Top

The CEO and other company leaders must embrace what the authors call “discovery skills” and ensure these skills take root throughout the organization.

“Questioning, observing, networking, experimenting and associating should be practiced at the most senior level, and imprinted throughout the organization.”

Questioning is critically important: “CEOs should ask questions, and allow their people to challenge the status quo. They should be observing—other companies, new technologies, different industries.”

Celebrate Risk

Many people, “even top performers,” shy away from taking part in innovative thinking. They believe only other people, whom everyone else deems “creative thinkers,” are qualified to innovate.

Nothing could be further from the truth, say Gregersen and Dyer. Everyone has the potential to be innovative as long as organizations offer “a safe space where discovery skills are valued, and where provocative questions can arise.”

Unless questions get asked, “disruptive ideas will not surface.”

In their research, the authors have found that “few managers spend 25 percent or more of their time on discovery work or development work.”

That’s a problem, because “failure to see and implement needed change today produces failure tomorrow.” And failure is not what anyone in any industry aspires to achieve.