Built to Innovate: A book review by Bob Morris

Built to Innovate: Essential Practices to Wire Innovation into Your Company’s DNA
Ben Bensaou with Karl Weber
McGRaw-Hill (September 2021)

How to establish and then nourish an innovation-driven workplace culture

With assistance from Karl Weber, Ben Bensaou wrote a book in which he asserts that every organization — whatever its size and nature may be –needs to operate through both an [begin italics] execution engine [end italics] and an [begin italics] innovation engine [end italics]. He explains “how to embed and nurture innovating capabilities, thereby building the organization’s innovating engine.” How? He recommends and explains seven “essential practices” in Chapter 10, Pages 197-213).

He makes a significant distinction between innovation and innovating. The former “refers to the output of innovating — a product, a technology, a service, and a process. Innovation as output tends to be associated with an individual genius, a research and development specialist, a great designer, or a business model creator. By contrast [begin italics] innovating [end italics] refers to a process. I define it as follows: “Innovating is systematically looking for developing, and implementing new ideas that create value for a customer and for the organization.” (Page xi)

In this context, I am again reminded of new ideas that, initially, solved a problem for an individual and only later became a best-selling commercial product.  Here are two examples.  Concerned about her wrinkled skin,  Mary Kay Ash added a fragrance to a lotion that softens leather. Her cosmetics company now has annual sakes in excess of $3.5 billion. In order to correct the mistakes she made when using an electric typewriter, Betty Naismith Graham (an amateur painter) added water to quick-drying gesso and applied it with a brush. She sold her invention to Gillette for almost $30-million and Liquid Paper products now have annual sales of about $19.8 billion.

These are among the passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Bensaou’s coverage:

o Jump-Starting the Practice of Creativity (Pages 3-22)
o Beyond the Product: Business Model Innovation (16-20)
o Execution and innovation engines (24-28)
o The Value Test: Assessing the Value Created by an Innovative Idea (33-35)
o The Process Is the Hero: The Innovating Engine at Samsung (36-42)

o Hearing and Heeding the Customer: Easier Said Than Done (51-53)
o Processes of innovating (69-90)
o How the Y.M.C.A. Innovates to Meet New Challenges (85-89)
o Why Frontline Innovators Play a Crucial Role in the Process of Creation (115-116)
o Value: Making Everyone in the Business a Frontline Innovator (120-126)

o Midlevel coaches (131-147)
o How Midlevel Coaches at Allianz Helped Build a Worldwide System for Innovation (134-138)
o How Senior leaders Can Focus an Entire Organization on Innovating (149-165)
o Creating a Governance and Coordination Structure for the Innovating Engine (169-190)
o The Corporate I Team:L Spark Plug of Innovating (176-181)

o Creating innovative ideas (191-216
o As noted previously, the “Built to Innovated (BTI) Seven-Step Innovating Process” (197-213)
o Innovating at Marvel Studios (213-216)
o Ways of Using the Seven-Step innovating Process (211-216)
o How Domino’s Put Innovating at the Heart of Its DNA (221-225)

Bensaou is to be commended for his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices that include check lists, bullet points, Figures, Tables (e.g. Table 2.1, “The Executive Engine Versus the Innovating Engine”), and especially a “Key Takeaways from” section at the conclusion of each chapter. This is how specifically he helps to facilitate, indeed expedite his reqder’s frequent review of key points later.

It is important to keep in mind that references to an “engine” are figurative. For example, a vehicle has an engine but it cannot function without fuel or — even with a tank filled with fuel — a means by which to distribute the fuel efficiently and effectively. The same is true of innovations.  They require a system and effective management of that system by which to have impact. The better the system and management of it.

Ben Bensaou provides just about all the information, insights, and counsel that business leaders need to wire innovation into their company’s DNA. Those who share my high regard for this brilliant book are urged to check out Keith Sawyer’s Zig Zag: The Surprising Path to Greater Creativity

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