Inside Real Innovation: A book review by Bob Morris

Inside Real Innovation: How the Right Approach Can Move Ideas from R&D to Market – And Get the Economy Going
Eugene Fitzgerald, Andreas Wankerl, and Carl Schramm
World Scientific Publishing Co. (2011)

How and why emerging innovation paradigms can generate economic growth for decades to come

What we have in this thoughtful and thought-provoking book is a brilliant analysis of how and why to achieve strategic objectives such these:

• A culture of innovative thinking
• A business model for fundamental and incremental innovation
• A workforce of innovators
• An enabling-and-support system (a “pipeline”)

Contrary to what many people may think, innovation is not a straight-line process. As Eugene Fitzgerald, Andreas Wankerl, and Carl Schramm explain in this book, “it is a highly iterative process, and the iterations do not consist merely of trying the same task again and again…The iterations typically include juggling and re-considering many technical and business factors, with an ever-changing view of how you might implement the idea, and the markets that might be interested. Gradually you arrive at a new `product’ and a new `business’ that might be quite different from what you first envisioned.” Hence the importance of establishing and then sustaining a culture that is capable of supporting all the diverse iterations and transactions needed. “People have to learn or obtain what they need from the right other people, and money for the right activity has to be put in at the right time.”

Credit Clayton Christensen with explaining (in The Innovator’s Dilemma) the differences between sustainable (incremental) innovation and disruptive (fundamental) innovation. Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm view incremental innovations as innovations “that need very little iteration between Technology, Market, and Implementation” whereas they view fundamental innovations as innovations “that either create a new business or fundamentally extend an existing one in a way that would otherwise not be possible…and for which the full iteration between Technology, Market, and Implementation needs to occur multiple times, to converge on a truly novel innovation.”

For me, some of the most interesting material is presented in Chapter 6, “The American Innovation System.” Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm provide a brief review of the evolution of the innovation system “as the economy and society have changed” during the past 240 years. (“The American Revolution was launched just as the Industrial Revolution was gathering steam.”) The details of this process are best revealed in context, within the narrative, but a few points seem in need of special emphasis:

1. Innovation in what is now the U.S. can be traced back to pre-colonial times. Of special interest to me are the development of improved processes such as “mass production” of standardized parts for muskets and then rifles. Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm create a context, a frame-of-reference for trends and patterns as well as for specific innovations.

2. Some of the most important disruptive innovations in more recent years were the result of seeming endless iterations of experimentation at Thomas Edison’s research center in Menlo Park NJ. His name may have been on the door and most of the 1, 083 patents but he was the first to point out that collaboration was the “secret,” as it has since proven to be at Walt Disney Company, with the Manhattan Project, at Lockheed’s “Skunk Works,” and Xerox PARC. Again, although not necessarily discussing these specific communities, Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm create a context, a frame-of-reference for new developments as the process continues to evolve. Of course, as perspectives on what a workplace should be and do differ, so do opinions about what the “pipeline” should be and do.

Throughout Chapter 6, Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm focus the reader’s attention on various trends, breakthroughs, unexpected developments, and key issues throughout the ever-evolving process of development of the “American Innovation System.” Before concluding Chapter 6, they examine the breakdown of that system, about 2000-present.

How to build (re-build?) the system? They devote Chapter 7 to the free market side and then Chapter 8 to the research and education side.

This is by no means an easy read but for those at the C-level or entrusted with primary responsibility for leading their organization through the current innovation crisis, I think this book is a “must read.” To create an innovation system with abundant capacity to deliver fundamental innovations, a new model is needed…and is provided in this book, accompanied by material that serves (in effect) as an operations manual. I congratulate Fitzgerald, Wankerl, and Schramm on a brilliant achievement. Bravo!


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