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How Innovative Are You?

Inc staff writer Ilan Mochari explains the answers behind the questions of Inc's September 2002 innovation quiz.
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The first thing we want to do is thank you.

We want to thank you for taking the "Innovation Quotient" quiz in the September issue of Inc. This was the first innovation quiz in our magazine's 23-year history. It was kind of a risk. We weren't sure you'd dig it. But if you're reading this sentence, then you cared enough about the quiz to learn the science behind the answers. We appreciate that.

Below is an annotated version of that quiz, along with source material and an explanation of the right and wrong answers. In plumbing the depths of our quiz, we hope you learn something about yourself as a CEO. And we hope you have fun in the process. We sure did. -- Ilan Mochari

Though I consulted over a dozen books on innovation and entrepreneurship before writing this quiz, in the end I only relied on three:

1. How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb.

I've never met Michael Gelb. I have no interest in promoting his books. In fact, I'm a hater of self-help books. But this book is terrific. It was the fuel for 10 of the 20 questions. By admitting that, I open myself to accusations of laziness. But if you read this book -- and if, like I did, you compare it to all the other available books on innovation and entrepreneurship in the Boston Public Library -- you'll quickly see why it became my primary source. Beyond having practical advice for entrepreneurs, the book is flat-out interesting: Anyone whose work requires creativity or idea-generation will find fascination in the life of Leonardo.

2. Innovate or Evaporate: Test & Improve Your Organization's I.Q. -- Its Innovation Quotient by James M. Higgins

This book is a solid compilation of business-world anecdotes. Rather than speaking of innovation in abstract generalizations, Higgins profiles what companies have actually done. The book also contains four questionnaires that you can use to assess your company's innovation prowess.

3. The Circle of Innovation: You Can't Shrink Your Way to Greatness by Tom Peters.

This book was the source for only two of the questions. The strength of the book is its wide range of source material: The index is vast, the annotations are thorough -- you can tell Peters (or his researchers) really searched long and hard for good information.

For the sake of the below annotations, I'll be referring to the three books by the names of their authors: Gelb, Higgins, and Peters.


1. If I were in school today, I might be diagnosed with which one of the following:
a) attention deficit disorder
b) chronic fatigue syndrome
c) anger-management issues
d) separation anxiety

The answer is (a). The source is Gelb, p. 65. "Now persistent question askers are diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder or 'hyperactivity' and treated with Ritalin and other drugs. If young Leonardo were alive today and attending grade school, he would probably be on medication."

The other choices came from my imagination. Any relation they have to creative thinking or the process of innovation is strictly coincidental.


2. Which of the following can you honestly say is a true statement about yourself?
a) I know the color of all my friends' eyes
b) I am comfortable with ambiguity
c) I know what all the controls on my stereo system are for
d) I often adjust the controls on my stereo system and can tell the difference when I do

All four choices are indicators of innovativeness. The source is Gelb, p. 99, 100, and 151.

Now obviously, we cannot say with certainty that da Vinci knew the colors of his friends' eyes. But from his notebooks of recorded observations -- and of course, from his paintings -- it's easy to ascertain that his senses of sight, smell, and hearing were preternatural. I am the most skeptical person you've ever met but, as I read the book, I had no problem believing that -- if da Vinci were alive today -- he'd recall the colors (and shapes) of his friends' eyes in a heartbeat.

As for ambiguity: Gelb writes that da Vinci possessed "a high tolerance for uncertainty." He supports this claim by pointing out how da Vinci's portraits defy facile analysis -- how the interpretation of his portraits' moods is wide open to the imagination.

As for the stereo stuff: The Maestro had a burning curiosity about how machines of all sorts functioned. Gelb cites Kenneth Clark's book, Leonardo da Vinci: "First, there are questions about the construction of certain machines, then, under the influence of Archimedes, questions about the first principles of dynamics; finally, questions which had never been asked before about winds, clouds, the age of the earth, generation, the human heart."


3. True or false:
a) In 1993 two executives from Rubbermaid toured an exhibit of Egyptian antiques at the British Museum in London. They came away with 11 specific product ideas, including some derived from Pharaoh's kitchen utensils.
b) A 3M employee came up with the idea for Post-it Notes after using bits of paper to mark the hymns he sang in his church choir.
c) The first woman known to become a millionaire for one of her inventions was an African American named Madame C.J. Walker. She created hair straightener for black women in 1905.
d) The actress Hedy Lamarr, an innovator of on-screen nudity (in the 1932 Czech film Ecstasy), received a patent in 1942 for helping to invent a radio-controlled torpedo.

All four are true. The source for (a) and (b) is Higgins, p. 110 and 277. The sources for (c) and (d), originally, were two pages on the Smithsonian Institution's Web site:

Here's the link to (c): http://www.si.edu/lemelson/centerpieces/iap/inventors_joy.html

Here's the link to (d): http://www.si.edu/lemelson/centerpieces/ilives/womeninventors.html

We used books and articles to corroborate the info on these Web pages.


4. Complete the following quote from management guru Tom Peters: "Leadership has been implicit in every page of this book. Now we get explicit: a deep and sustaining commitment to innovation means leader-as-dispenser-of-__________."
a) enthusiasm
b) solutions
c) Pez
d) creativity

The answer is (a). The source is Peters, p. 495. And yes, all those hyphens at the end are intentional. Peters writes that way sometimes.

I made up the other choices.

Last updated: Aug 26, 2002




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