Dealing with Darwin: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: September 30th, 2011 by bobmorris

Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution
Geoffrey A. Moore
Portfolio/Penguin Group (2005)

Those who have read one or more of Moore’s previous books (notably Inside the Tornado, Crossing the Chasm, and Living on the Fault Line) already know what a clear thinker and eloquent writer he is on the subject of high-tech markets, especially in terms of formulating appropriate strategies and tactics at a time when ever-accelerating change is the only constant within those dynamic markets. In Dealing with Darwin, he develops in much greater depth his response to this question: “How do great companies innovate at every phase of their evolution?” He is convinced (as am I) that there is a process of natural selection that determines why some companies prosper and most others do not.

Moore cites the concept of value disciplines which Michael Treacy and Fred Wiersema first introduced in their brilliant book, The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market. He then identifies four clusters of innovation zones: Product Leadership, Customer Intimacy, Operational Excellence, and Category Renewal. The challenge for decision-makers in any organization (regardless of its size or nature) is to select innovation zone in which to establish and sustain “break away” separation from its competitive set. Moore suggests that this decision be made in terms of three factors:

• Core competence: different organizations have different assets to exploit
• Competitive analysis: different sets of competitors leave different openings to exploit
• Category maturity:
Different stages of the category-maturity life cycle reward different forms of innovation

Moore acknowledges an “odd pairing” of innovation leadership at the top with innovation “bubbling up from the bottom.” Initiatives from both must be in proper alignment. Obviously, it is not easy to establish such an alignment and even more difficult to sustain it. Of course, Moore is well aware of that. “Managing innovation requires executives to foster a bottoms-up stream of innovation opportunities…Managing innovation also implies maintaining a portfolio of strategies because different categories will respond to different types of innovation. This creates a level of complexity that can create confusion in the broader organization, with teams being asked to pursue one form of innovation here and another there. “Of special interest to me is what Moore has to say about managing inertia in Part Three (Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven).

In my opinion, Dealing with Darwin has much wider relevance and greater value than Moore’s earlier works because it addresses issues by no means limited to the dynamics of high technology. Hence the importance of Chapter Eleven. In it, Moore recommends what he characterizes as “essential steps” to setting an agenda:

1. Conduct a core/context analysis of your current business.
2. Conduct a resource-allocation analysis to complement your core/context analysis.
3. Set a more ambitious (i.e. more “aggressive”) agenda.
4. Plan out your moves as a team.
5. Focus on time to market.
6. Get the gears moving.
7. Keep the gears moving.

Moore also provides with these seven steps practical suggestions as well as a few appropriate caveats. Darwin’s influence remains evident in his concluding remarks. “That’s what evolution is all about, a continual raising of the bar. It’s how countries raise their standard of living. It’s why new companies get formed every year. It’s why each of us must learn new skills throughout our careers. We may get tired, but we are not likely to get bored. Mostly we just have to perform. Welcome to the race.”

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