The Little Black Book of Innovation: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: January 9th, 2012 by bobmorris

The Little Black Book of Innovation: How It Works, How to Do It
Scott D. Anthony
Harvard Business Review Press (2012)

How to develop and then apply the skills needed to create “something different that has impact”

I have read and reviewed all of the other books that Scott Anthony has authored or co-authored and think this is the most valuable…thus far. In ways and to an extent even Clay Christensen hasn’t, Anthony has embraced his reader and said, in effect, “I am now going to share with you everything I have learned about what innovation is…and isn’t, what it does…and doesn’t do, and how you can master the skills of innovative thinking.” He immediately establishes a direct and collegial rapport with his reader and then sustains it throughout the lively and eloquent narrative.

Although his book is technically not a memoir, Anthony draws heavily on his own experience, sharing anecdotes from defining moments and memorable relationships throughout his “personal innovation journey” that “began in earnest” during an airline flight more than a decade ago. He was carrying with him and began to read a copy of Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma. He was among the students enrolled in an experimental course (“Building a Sustainably Successful Enterprise”) at Harvard Business School taught by Christensen. Thus began a personal as well as professional relationship with him that continues to this day. Anthony’s aforementioned “journey” since that day (October 20, 2000) enabled him to learn “the truth” about innovation (especially from academic researchers who have “decoded” many of its mysteries”) that has prepared him well to help each of his readers to embark on a comparable journey. As he explains,

“Much of this learning is out of reach for the layperson. It is locked up in books that are too dense, or even worse, it is locked up in the heads of individuals. The Little Black Book of Innovation aims to address this issue by providing the tools and giving you [his reader] the confidence to more reliably turn your dreams into reality.”

After establishing his book’s “foundation” in Part I, he introduces a 28-day innovation program in Part II. Here are the primary goals for each of the four weeks:

Week 1: Discovering the Opportunities (“Wrap Up” on Page 126)
Week 2: Blueprinting Ideas (“Wrap Up” on 165)
Week 3: Addressing and Testing Ideas (“Wrap Up” on 206)
Week 4: Moving Forward (“Wrap Up” on 245)

Anthony introduces each of the four (“This week will help you to accomplish the following [objectives]”) and devotes a separate chapter to each of the 28 days, posing a “Central Question” followed by a “One-Sentence Answer” as well as a set of “How-To Tips.” Within this framework, he provides an abundance of information, insights, and recommendations based on real-world situations that illustrate what innovation is…and isn’t, what it does…and doesn’t do, and how almost anyone can master the skills of innovative thinking.

This four-week/28-day program will be of substantial benefit both to individuals and to teams. If a senior-level executive reads this book and decides to create and lead a project team whose objective is to develop a game plan to increase and support innovation throughout the given enterprise, I presume to suggest that Anthony’s previously published book, The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, also be read. In it, he also offers a wealth of advice. For example:

o Identifying the “different approach to take when prudently “pruning” by obtaining the answers to five questions (Pages 30-31)
o What the four business unit portfolio “traps” are and how to avoid or escape from them (Pages 34-35)
o Four specific analyses that can help to determine the degree to which an existing business has unexploited or under-developed potential (Pages 38-39)
o Three important lessons for cost cutting to be learned from the basic pattern of disruptive innovation (Page 52)
o The three-step process to drive “intelligent cost cutting” (Pages 52-63)
o The three-step process that innovators have used to drive disruption to create “spectacular success” (Pages 75-82)
o Four common strategic traps that may appear (Pages 96-98)

Mind you, all this is provided during the first hundred pages.

With all due respect to the other books that have been written about these and other issues, if you will read only one, I think it must be The Little Black of Innovation. If you read only two, The Silver Lining is my recommendation.


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