Scott D. Anthony on Generating and Then Launching Great Ideas: An interview by Bob Morris

AnthonyScott D. Anthony is the managing partner of Innosight, a global strategic innovation consulting and investment firm. Based in the firm’s Singapore offices since 2010, he has led Innosight’s expansion into the Asia-Pacific region as well as its venture capital activities (Innosight Ventures). He has worked with clients ranging from national governments to companies in industries as diverse as healthcare, telecommunications, consumer products, and software. Scott has written extensively about innovation. He is the author of The Little Black Book of Innovation (2012), The Silver Lining (2011), and most recently, The First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas Into the Market, published by Harvard Business Review Press (Harvard Business Review Press (May 6, 2014). He co-authored the eBook Building a Growth Factory (2012) with his firm’s colleague, David Duncan, Seeing What’s Next (2004) with Harvard Business School Professor and Innosight co-founder, Clayton Christensen, and was the lead author of The Innovator’s Guide to Growth (2008).

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing The First Mile, a few general questions. First, from which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

That’s a great question. I am a passionate baseball fan (one of the best moments of 2013 was life conspiring to get me to game 6 of the World Series in Fenway Park), so I would nominate any book by Bill James. James and like-minded researchers and writers showed the world how to look at baseball in a different way. Through analyzing data and then designing and running simulations they challenged conventional wisdom, overturned orthodoxy and drove fundamental changes in talent evaluation and in-game tactics. It showed me how the principles of good scientific exploration can lead you to see the world in a fundamentally different way.

My second choice here probably would be one of the recent books focused on behavioral economics and social psychology, such as Dan Ariel’s Predictably Irrational or Daniel Hahnemann’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. That vein of research shows how bad us humans are at making certain types of decisions, which I think is at least one reason why The Innovator’s Dilemma persists 20 years after Christensen first started publishing the results from his research.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-tse’s Tao Te Chin:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Anthony: This resonates strongly with what we are trying to do to make Innosight really a different type of consulting company. Three of our core corporate values are inclusiveness, collaboration, and humility. We start with a premise that our clients are smart, well-intentioned people. They know their business and industry, and we never pretend that we could possibly know it better. We however have a set of tools and approaches about managing strategic transformation. Our goal is to enable our clients to do things that they couldn’t do on their own, and then get out of the way. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course, but it leads to the kind of lasting impact to which we aspire.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “Make everything as simple as possible but no simpler”

Anthony: Something that guides me every day. I think people make innovation much more complicated than it needs to be. The school at which you studied – design school, disruptive school, TRIZ school, user-centered innovation school, etc – determines the specific words you use. But everyone knows innovation involves developing unique understanding of a market, thinking expansively to develop a solution, and then finding a way to test rigorously and adapt quickly. That doesn’t make it easy, of course, but so many people tell me that they aren’t creative or they aren’t innovative, and it’s just not true.

Morris: From Howard Aiken: “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.”

Anthony: You used this as the title for your review of The First Mile, which I thought was great. I think broadly people worry too much about showing their hand, for two reasons. First, every great idea emerges out of a process of trial-and-error experimentation. People who copy what exists copy a point-in-time artifact, and if you are managing the process correctly you are already hard at work on the next thing.

The second is people will try to copy what they can see, which is the final product or service, but it’s much harder to see (and copy) all the intricacies of the business model that allows you to create, capture, and deliver value. And that’s what you need to get right to really jam something down people’s throats!

Morris: From Richard Dawkins: “Yesterday’s dangerous idea is today’s orthodoxy and tomorrow’s cliché.”

Anthony: You could replace this with “the future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed” and it would have the same basic effect. Almost every disruption starts at the perceived fringes of today’s market. It is one reason why we, like great design companies like IDEO, are dogmatic about spending time in the market’s periphery. Every leader needs to watch what teenagers or startup companies – or startup companies headed by teenagers – are doing today, because many of those behaviors will be mainstream behaviors tomorrow.

Morris: From Isaac Asimov: “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds the most discoveries, is not “Eureka!” (I found it!) But ‘That’s odd….’”

Anthony: I’ve come to the conclusion that the core characteristic that separates companies that get innovation from those that don’t is a simple word: curiosity. History teaches us that many breakthroughs were happy accidents. Whether that’s penicillin coming from Fleming neglecting to clean his laboratory before going on vacation or the team at Odeon trying a little side project that allowed people to communicate in real time as long as their message was 140 characters or less (which ultimately of course became Twitter), the unintended is often the transformational.

The curious company studies the anomalies or the unexpected findings. The company that isn’t curious ignores them or punishes people who don’t do exactly what they set out to do. There’s a general belief that failure is the friend of the innovator, but I’ve come to view it a different way. In the early stages of innovation, your goal is to learn as much as you can as quickly as you can. Therefore, aside from the equivalent of blowing up the lab or letting a pathogen escape, the only failure is spending too long or too much money to learn.

Morris: Finally, from Peter Drucker: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

Anthony: One of Christensen’s truly great contributions was identifying this thing called “overshooting.” That is, improving a product or service to the point at which further improvements aren’t valued by the customer. A kind of glib example of this is the poor engineer that added the 53rd button on their remote control. Companies get into grooves and they keep sharpening what they are doing, when in fact what they really need to do sometimes is to stop and do something completely differently. More broadly, I find it remarkable how prescient almost all of Drucker’s stuff continues to look. He had a great gift of clear thinking and writing from which the world continues to benefit.

Morris: In one of Tom Davenport’s recent books, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment. That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Anthony: I feel for today’s leaders. I really do. They got to where they are by doing a series of jobs exceptionally well. And that doesn’t help them at all with the challenges they now face. Any leader has two jobs to do. To do what they are currently doing better and more efficiently (call this strengthening the core), and to do what they are not currently doing but will need to do in the future (call this creating the new). In the strengthening the core job, a leader can draw on their past experiences. After all, in most cases they did the job of the people that are reporting to them! So they know when something is screwed up, they know the risks worth taking, and they know the corners to cut. But when they are creating the new, no one knows what the right answer is.

This is where principles of good experimentation – have a hypothesis, design the experiment, analyze the results – and collective judgment take over. But those aren’t muscles leaders had to develop to earn their promotions. And creating the new increasingly is more than 50 percent of a top leader’s job. Boy, is that a tough challenge.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Anthony: I think it is only in hindsight that you can determine whether something is a mistake or not. I think the most important thing to do is to recognize the fundamentally different circumstances of pursuing growth. There is what Steve Blank calls the stage where you are searching for a scalable business model. Then, there is the stage when you have found that model and need to scale it. In the former stage you have to have a “beginner’s mind,” be in learning mode, and expect to learn things you didn’t anticipate. You’ll look back on the journey and see that you had lots of assumptions that proved to not be true, but with that mindset and approach it doesn’t feel like a misstep or mistake, it just feels like what it felt like when you learned how to ride a bike and got progressively better with practice.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exception) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Anthony: When you are motivating people to do amazing things, you have to win over both their rational side and their emotive side. I’ve never seen impeccable logic be sufficient to win both the heart and the mind. It’s one of the underappreciated skills required by an innovator – they have to be able to convince lots of people to do things that might not be fully rational (invest in the company, join something that is likely to fail, try a product they’ve never seen before), and if you can’t tell a good story it is just very hard to make that happen. Now, I worry a bit about the TEDification of the world where style trumps substance, so hopefully you have a good blend of both!

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Scott cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

Creative Innovation talk on the 4th era

Talk at Google

Interview on the book with Harvard

Book URL:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s