Breaking Away: A book review by Bob Morris

Breaking Away: How Great Leaders Create Innovation That Drives Sustainable Growth – and Why Others Fail
Jane Stevenson and Bilal Kaafarani
McGraw-Hill (2011)

How and why to create a “magic mix” of innovation leadership with innovation processes

Year after year, annual lists of the most highly creative organizations include “the usual suspects”: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Nike, Pixar, Twitter, etc. With all due respect to these exemplars and to various authors who have much of value to say about innovation processes or the environment for it that effective leaders have established and sustained, no book (to the best of my knowledge) thoroughly examines both environment and leadership…until now.

According to Jane Stevenson and Bilal Kaafarani, there is a “magic mix” that enables some leaders to create a “sustainable innovation engine” within their organization. “In Breaking Away, we’ll look at why this happens and how to achieve different types of innovation success.” More specifically, these are among the key questions to which they respond:

o  Why do some innovation leader succeed but most fail?
o  Why do some workplace environments nourish and support innovation but most don’t?
o  What is the innovation risk profile and why is it so important?
o  What are the quality parameters within which to create “customer evangelists”?

Note: Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba devised the term, “customer evangelists.” Revealingly, the process of creating them involves the same core values as does the process for creating employee (or stakeholder) “evangelists.” Hmmmm…..

o  Which cultural factors are essential to a workplace environment in which innovation thrives?
o  Which cultural factors preclude establishing or sustaining one?
o  What are the defining characteristics and unique abilities of the most effective innovation leaders?

To their great credit, Stevenson and Kaafarani identify and explain a multiple of options and considerations (e.g. “an elegantly simple model that reveals four types of innovation that can lead to growth”) with regard to the interdependence of innovation environment and leadership. They view “leadership” in two separate but essential dimensions: having the vision and authority to do whatever must be done to establish and sustain (if necessary, to protect) an environment in which the innovation process thrives, and, taking initiative at all levels (i.e. transformational, category, marketplace, and operational) and in all areas of the given enterprise. That is, innovative people “make it happen” because their leaders have ensured that it can “happen.”

With regard to this book’s title, as Stevenson and Kaafarani demonstrate in Part 3 (“The Payoff: Activating Growth”), it refers to the process by which to activate innovation in ways that (a) reduce or at least distribute risks and consequent costs and meanwhile (b) increase and improve the chances for breakthrough innovation. “At its heart,” they explain, “innovation is about how to break away from the pack and master the marketplace, using the best employees, technology, business heritage, and resources – all driven by the needs of the customer.”

However different they may be in most respects, all great innovative organizations share this in common: they “create innovation that drives sustainable growth” in marketplaces in which their competitors don’t.


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