Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: November 26th, 2010 by bobmorris

Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation
James M. Utterback
Harvard Business Press, Second Edition (1996)

Note: This is one of the books I enjoy re-reading every few years because the material remains relevant despire the inevitable changes in the global marketplace.

Utterback explains “how companies can seize opportunities in the face of technological change.” There are dozens (hundreds?) of other books on the same subject, notably those written later by Geoffrey A. Moore, notably Inside the Tornado (1997), Crossing the Chasm (2000), and Dealing with Darwin (2008). I think so highly of this book because it is exceptionally well-organized and well-written as it examines several offbeat subjects (e.g. the development of the typewriter and the evolution of the typewriter industry, the development of the incandescent electric light), and also because Utterback focuses so intensely — and so effectively — on real-world situations in which the “dynamics of innovation” are manifest.
This book is very informative but also great fun to read. (Those who enjoy it as much as I did are urged to read Peter Watson’s Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud, Joel Mokyr’s The Lever of Riches, and William Rosen’s The Most Powerful Idea in the World: A Story of Steam, Industry, and Invention.) Chapter 4 revisits the dynamics of the innovation model (Figure 1-1) and then in Chapter 5, Utterback shifts his attention to developments within the plate glass manufacturing industry. In Chapter 6, he examines the innovation differences between assembled and non-assembled products.
Subsequent chapters sustain the discussion of “the power of innovation in the creation of an industry” and then, in Chapter 9,
Utterback “draws together some of the lessons of earlier chapters and academic research to consider the relationship between the behaviors and strategies of firms with respect to technological innovation and long-term survival.” He concludes his book (in Chapter 10) by addressing “the perennial management issue of how corporations can renew their technology, products, and processes as a basis for continued competitive vitality.” It is obvious to all of us that even the strongest product and business strategy will eventually be overturned by technological change.
Ours is an age in which change is the only constant. Therefore, as Utterbach explains so carefully and so eloquently, the challenge is to accept the inevitability of change which results from technological innovation (“discontinuities”) and to sustain a commitment to cope effectively with such change. Only such a commitment “will win the day.”
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