Rabe defines innovation as “an application of an idea that results in a valuable improvement.” Her definition emphasizes that the ability to think innovatively should be a goal for every function in an organization – not just the new product or technology team. As she correctly observes, there is a process by which ideas become reality in most organizations. “First there is typically a challenge or opportunity to be addressed. Then someone comes up with an idea for addressing it. A stage of development or fine-tuning typically follows (this can be very short or, in the case of some product or technology innovations, very long) in order to apply the idea. The final result? An innovation.”
One of her most interesting – and most valuable – concepts is of what she calls “Zero-Gravity Thinkers.” The title of her book refers to the most common barriers to innovation: practitioners of GroupThink (“the strongest force on earth”) and ExpertThink (“GroupThink on steroids”). They establish and then vigorously defend all manner of “filters” to diminish if not “kill” any perceived threats to the status quo. Rabe concedes that Zero-Gravity Thinkers aren’t a “magic solution” to such barriers because “there is no cure-all for a stuck-in-the mud organization.” However, they are a high-value tool when recognizing and then responding effectively to the aforementioned “filters.”
Of special interest to many readers is what Rabe has to say about the leadership required when “going where no one has gone before.” She does not limit her attention to leadership at the senior-management level. On the contrary, she convincingly explains why innovation leadership must be present at all levels and throughout all areas of an organization. Moreover, given the well-entrenched and highly-efficient “filters,” the nature of the leadership required must itself be innovative. It must take into full account, for example, the perils of challenging traditional chains of authority and channels of communication. This is precisely what Jim O’Toole has in mind when discussing (in Leading Change) what he characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” The power of GroupThink and ExpertThink must never be under-estimated.
When necessary, effective leaders of innovation initiatives are courageous enough to ignore convention and act on their own intuition and rational arguments of those outside the given organization. Also, they are prudent but not risk-adverse. They never state or even imply that innovative thinking is acceptable only without the possibility of failure. What Rabe offers in this volume is a rigorous and thorough examination of who and what can “kill” innovation…and offers practical advice as to how to respond effectively and productively when opposed by them.
I recently re-read two books written by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman, this one and The Art of Innovation. In both, Kelley provides a wealth of information and counsel which can help any decision-maker to “drive creativity” through her or his organization but only if initiatives are (a) a collaboration which receives the support and encouragement of senior management (especially of the CEO) and (b) sufficient time is allowed for those initiatives to have a measurable impact. There is a distressing tendency throughout most organizations to rip out “seedlings” to see how well they are “growing.” Six Sigma programs offer a compelling example. Most are abandoned within a month or two. Why? Unrealistic expectations, cultural barriers (what Jim O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom”), internal politics, and especially impatience are among the usual suspects. That said, I agree with countless others (notably Teresa Amabile, Clayton Christensen, Guy Claxton, Edward de Bono, Peter Drucker, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, Michael Michalko, Michael Ray, and Roger von Oech) that innovation is now the single most decisive competitive advantage. How to establish and then sustain that advantage?
In an earlier work, The Art of Innovation, Kelley shares IDEO’s five-step methodology: Understand the market, the client, the technology, and the perceived constraints on the given problem; observe real people in real-life situations; literally visualize new-to-the-world concepts AND the customers who will use them; evaluate and refine the prototypes in a series of quick iterations; and finally, implement the new concept for commercialization. With regard to the last “step”, as Warren Bennis Patricia and Ward Biederman explain in Organizing Genius, Apple executives immediately recognized the commercial opportunities for PARC’s technology. Larry Tesler (who later left PARC for Apple) noted that Jobs and colleagues (especially Wozniak) “wanted to get it out to the world.” But first, obviously, the challenge was to create that “it” which they then did.
In this volume, as Kelley explains, his book is “about innovation with a human face. [Actually, at least ten...hence its title.] It’s about the individuals and teams that fuel innovation inside great organizations. Because all great movements are human-powered.” He goes on to suggest that all good working definitions of innovation pair ideas with action, “the spark with fire. Innovators don’t just have their heads in the clouds. They also have their feet on the ground.” Kelley cites and then examines several exemplary (“great”) organizations that include Google, W.L. Gore & Associates, the Gillette Company, and German retailer Tchibo. I especially appreciate the fact that Kelley focuses on the almost unlimited potential for creativity of individuals and the roles which they can play, “the hats they can put on, the personas they can adopt…[albeit] unsung heroes who work on the front lines of entrepreneurship in action, the countless people and teams who make innovation happen day in and day out.”
Because organizations need individuals who are savvy about the counterintuitive process of how to move ideas forward, Kelley recommends three “Organizing Personas”: The Hurdler, The Collaborator, and The Director.
Because organizations also need individuals and teams who apply insights from the learning roles and channel the empowerment from the organizing roles to make innovation happen, Kelley recommends four “Building personas”: The Experience Architect, The Set Designer, The Caregiver, and The Storyteller. Note both the sequence, interrelatedness and, indeed, the interdependence of these ten “personas.”
What Kelley achieves in this volume is to develop in much greater depth than do von Oech and de Bono what are essentially ten different perspectives. He does so, brilliantly, by focussing the bulk of his attention of those who, for example, seek and explore new opportunities to reveal breakthrough insights…and while doing so wear (at least metaphorically) one of de Bono’s hats (probably the green one). Kelley devotes a separate chapter to each of the ten “personas,” including real-world examples of various “unsung heroes who work on the front lines of entrepreneurship in action, the countless people and teams who make innovation happen day in and day out.”
Ignore the glitzy title and concentrate on the solid material which is provided. As the subtitle of this volume correctly indicates, McGrath and MacMillan identify and then explain “40 strategic moves that drive exceptional business growth.” Decision-makers in many organizations still do not understand that strategies resemble hammers in that they “drive” tactics which are comparable with nails. Of course, both strategies and tactics must be selected with meticulous care, then implemented effectively. The core of this book involves five strategies to create “marketbusters”: Transform the customers’ experience, transform your offerings, redefine profit drivers, exploit industry shifts, and consider entering (for you) new markets. No news there. The value of this book is derived from McGrath and MacMillan’s explanations of (a) HOW to select the strategies which are most appropriate to your organization’s current and imminent needs and (b) WHAT to do when coordinating those strategies with tactics (or “moves”) during the implementation process.
To assist that process, they provide “Preparing Yourself: Audit Your Strategy and Clarify Your Process,” a self-dianostic which poses most (if not all) of the key questions to be answered and most (if not all) of the key issues to be addressed. Of special interest to me is the provision, also, of a set of “Action Steps” at the conclusion of each chapter. With regard to the “40 Moves,” they are organized as follows, accompanied by specific examples: Numbers 1-5 which involve changing the consumption chain (pages 25-39), Numbers 6-12 which various companies have used to shift the attribute maps for their offerings and create marketbusters (pages 54-76, Numbers 13-20 which suggest potential alternatives to a current unit of business (pages 92-113), Numbers 21-32 which can help to structure (or restructure) consideration of possible industrywide shifts (pages 119-148), and Numbers 33-40 which can assist the formulation of a typology of potential opportunity types and an understanding of what achieving success with each may require (pages 156-179).
McGrath and MacMillan then provide a “MarketBuster Case Study” of Royal Insurance Italy in which they demonstrate at least some of the potentialities of the cohesive and comprehensive process previously discussed, followed by an Appendix in which all 40 “Moves” are briefly but thoughtfully reiterated. I strongly recommend to those who read this book that they re-read the Appendix at least monthly so as to be prepared to recognize whichever new growth options and opportunities may emerge since first reading this book.
When concluding this brief commentary, I presume to offer a few caveats. First, beware of what Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton characterize as “The Knowing-Doing Gap” in the book which bears that title. More often than not, decision-makers fail to convert knowledge into action to achieve the desired results. In this context, I am reminded of Coach Darrell Royal’s assertion that “potential” means “you ain’t done it yet.” Also, expect to encounter substantial resistance to change initiatives. For example, what Jim O’Toole characterizes in his book, Leading Change, as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Moreover, once you have selected the most appropriate strategies, you must obtain buy-in and then maintain a steadfast commitment to them but be prepared to change tactics. Hence the importance of having an early-warning system as you rigorously measure organizational and individual performance. Finally, have a contingency plan in place so that you can respond immediately and effectively whenever new or revised tactics are required
For many who read this book, it may well be a “surprising truth” that innovation succeeds “not by breaking free from constraints of the past but instead by harnessing the past in powerful new ways.” I am among those who agree with the prophet Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun; also with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who asserted that everything changes…but nothing changes. I also agree with Hargadon’s emphasis on the importance of an innovation strategy that seeks to take full advantage of what can be learned from the past in order to create the future. His core concept is “technology brokering” which he introduces and then rigorously examines in Part I; next, in Part II, he describes the “networked perspective” of innovation, explaining how this strategy influences the innovative process within organizations, regardless of their size and nature; finally, in Part III, Hargadon provides specific and practical examples of how various organizations have designed and then implemented technology brokering strategies. Throughout the narrative, Hargadon explores in depth with rigor and eloquence his core premise: “that breakthrough innovation comes by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies.”
In this context, I am reminded of what Carla O’Dell asserts in If We Only Knew What We Know when discussing what she calls “beds of knowledge” which are “hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined.” She suggests all manner of effective strategies to “tap into “this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation — all the while increasing profits and effectiveness.” Almost all organizations claim that their “most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day.” That is correct. Almost all intellectual “capital” is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in “small change….there is no conclusion to managing knowledge and transferring best practices. It is a race without a finishing line.”
I think this is precisely what Hargadon has in mind when insisting that the future is already here, that the “raw materials for the next breakthrough technology may [also] be already here [but probably] without assembly instructions,” that decision-makers must find their “discomfort zones” rather than remain hostage to what Jim O’Toole calls “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom,” and that they should build a “bridge” to their own strengths but also to their weaknesses because, as they perform, so will their organization. I agree with Hargadon that innovation must unfold at the ground level, “in the minds and hearts of the engineers and entrepreneurs who are doing the work.” Also, that — meanwhile — they and their associates must be guided and informed, not only by their own organization’s “beds of knowledge” but also by external sources of information concerning prior successes and failures of the innovation process elsewhere. In the final analysis, there is good news and bad news. First the bad news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.” Now the good news: “New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone.”
Don’t be fooled by this book’s diminutive size and brief length. The content is rock-solid and thought-provoking. Waters’ suggestions and recommendations are eminently practical. This book is also written with a style that has Snap! Crackle! and Pop! Usually an A to Z organizing principle is merely a gimmick. Not so in this instance. Waters offers a series of brief but stimulating discussions of 26 subjects that range from A (Antennae by which to “tune in to the little things, the trivial nuances, and the irrelevant data which everyone else misses”) to Z (Zen which embraces opposites, paradoxes, contradictions, etc. while celebrating duality and embraces polarity). Waters urges her reader to learn to practice “the Zen of trend.”
As she carefully differentiates, a “trend tracker” is someone who is alert for indications that help his or her business to stay up to the minute whereas what she calls a “Trendmaster” uses that information to determine where that minute is going. Years ago when asked to explain his effectiveness as a hockey player, Wayne Gretzky replied that others know where the puck is while he knows where it is going to be. Larry Bird once said that when he played basketball, he saw plays develop as if in slow motion and he could “see” exactly what would happen next. There are countless other examples of precisely the same skills on which Waters focuses, all of which almost anyone can possess and then improve.
She may be overstating the case when suggesting that what she recommends is a “new way of looking at the world.” The fact remains, however, that her insights will seem “new” to those readers who were previously unaware of “the invisibility of the obvious” and may have been captive to what Jim O’Toole calls “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” As a result, they have failed to recognize seemingly insignificant indications of emerging trends that (sooner rather than later) determine success or failure in any competitive marketplace.
I highly recommend this book, especially to decision-makers in small-to-midsize companies which have limited resources and thus must somehow do more and do it better, do it sooner, and with less. I agree with Warren Buffett who said something to the effect that “price is what you charge but value is what others think it’s worth.” This is especially true of current and prospective customers. Mastering the use of various tools that Waters provides will help each reader to become a Trendmaster. Because trends evolve in sometimes unexpected directions, the same tools and skills can then be used to make necessary adjustments of the given strategies and tactics.