REVIEW: The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge

The main idea

Much of the focus over the last decade or so has focused on the supply-side of innovation. How do you come up with innovative ideas and concepts that you can take to the market. In this excellent book the authors focus instead on the problem of executing innovation. Something of which much less has been written about but which is vitally important for achieving successful innovation.

Interesting tidbit

The authors co-authored an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) on frugal innovation with Jeff Immelt, the head of General Electric (GE). You can access the article here.

What you really need to know

Organizations need to devote specific resources to innovation. But, and herein lies the difference to many others who argue this, these groups need to be embedded and inter-connected to other parts of the other organizations. The reason is that skunk works may not have the connectivity with market intelligence and knowledge of the capacity and capability of their organization as a whole to actualize the ideas that they come up with. That is – they can’t innovate in a vacuum.

The general overview

Established businesses are generally focused on efficiency – through increased predictability and speed – rather than innovation. But, innovation is unpredictable and messy which is at odds with this other aim. In response to this the authors promote the creation of specific, dedicated innovation centers within organizations that are nonetheless connected and linked in with the other aspects of the organization. And, they ought to be held accountable for their work – although in this case it would be their ability to learn from their mistakes rather than, say, keeping to their budgets.

It’s a great book. The most valuable element it brings though is the author’s corrective on the over-focus that has occurred in recent years on the Start Up as the model for organizational behavior. Start Ups play a valuable role in our organizational ecosystem – but merely one role. There is still a role for more mature an established organizations – albeit one that is changing as the environment in which they operate continues to shift and change – and it is important for us to better understand how to help these types of organizations operate more effectively as they create value in the world. If there is a problem with the book it is that they tend to promote THE answer for the role of execution in innovation – dedicated innovation resource centers – rather than propose that as one example amongst others within the innovation tool box that managers and leaders can utilize to improve their organization’s ability to execute on innovation.