Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Innovation could be our salvation

Three new books offer advice on when and how to harness the power of creativity.

How do we get out of this mess we're in? The United States doesn't manufacture very much any more, nor is agriculture likely to re-emerge as the driving force of our economy. American popular culture is still dominant throughout the world, but many of the movie studios and remaining record companies are foreign-owned. Ditto with industries like brewing (Miller, Anheuser-Busch), pharmaceuticals and many more.

Some observers say that small business will take the lead and will aggregate the necessary critical mass for economic growth, and that may well be the case. Innovation could serve as the fuel to power the engine. As corny as it may sound, American ingenuity is a formidable force and could be our salvation. Three recent books look at ways to foster and capitalize on innovation.

The Way of Innovation: Master the Five Elements of Change to Reinvent Your Products, Services and Organization. Kaihan Krippendorff. Platinum Press. 256 pages.
Krippendorff's 2004 book, Art of the Advantage, was a fascinating glimpse at traditional Asian philosophical thinking, making it comprehensible and actionable for Western business minds. He looked at stratagems found in books such as Sun Tzu's The Art of War and extrapolated them into hypothetical scenarios that could be replicated within modern commercial settings.

This new book picks up the thread by examining the nature of innovation, the forces that drive it and ways to jump-start the process. Using Buddhist, Hindu and Taoist ideas and principles, Krippendorff cites a number of companies and tells how they utilized these philosophies — consciously or not — to drive innovation and success.

It's an interesting and potentially mind-blowing exploration, and Krippendorff certainly knows his stuff, though I didn't know what to make of this jaw-dropping assertion, coincidentally concerning one of his current clients: "Many believe Wal-Mart uses size to negotiate lower prices from its suppliers. But there is no meaningful evidence to support this.''

From Concept to Consumer: How to Turn Ideas into Money. Phil Baker. FT Press. 192 pages.
Baker takes a decidedly pragmatic view of innovation, and his new book is a mostly no-frills primer on what it takes to get it going. He looks at the various factors including product design, engineering, testing, manufacturing and distribution. There's nothing arcane or mystical here, though he does write expansively on the use of Asian resources for design and manufacturing.

As you would expect, he employs ample examples to illustrate his advice, many of which are derived from primary experiences rather than analyses of case studies. Though his prose is clean and precise, there's plenty of good information herein for those attempting to capitalize on their inspiration.

Mastering the Hype Cycle: How to Choose the Right Innovation at the Right Time. Jackie Fenn and Mark Raskino. Harvard Business School Press. 272 pages.
Timing is everything. The world apparently wasn't ready for Apple's Newton when it was introduced, though Blackberries and other PDAs — including tricked-out iPhones — are now all the rage.

Fenn and Raskino lick their thumbs, check the winds and look at the best times to ride the waves of innovation. As vice presidents and fellows of Gartner Research, they back up their assertions with solid research. They seem to understand the intuitive part of the equation too, which is exactly right, as the creative process is one that draws from many sources (see Krippendorff, above), and not every action can be quantified. But benefiting from the lessons of one's predecessors is never a bad idea.

Published 11/24/08 in The Miami Herald

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