Getting Innovation Right: A book review by Bob Morris

Getting Inno RightGetting Innovation Right: How Leaders Leverage Inflection Points to Drive Success
Seth Kahan
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2013)

“There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.” Peter Drucker

Those who have read any of Seth Kahan’s previous books (notably Getting Change Right) already know that he has an insatiable curiosity to understand what works in business, what doesn’t, and why so that he can then share what he has learned with as many people as possible. He is a world-class pragmatist and that is obvious in his latest book in which he explains “how leaders leverage inflection points to drive success.” The former chairman and CEO of Intel, Andy Grove, was probably the first person to popularize the term in his book, Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company (1996), although it was by then familiar to students of differential calculus. During a presentation at an Intel annual meeting in 1998, Grove explains what he means by strategic inflection points.

“They represent, in my description of it, what happens to a business when a major change takes place in its competitive environment. A major change due to introduction of new technologies. A major change due to the introduction of a different regulatory environment. The major change can be simply a change in the customers’ values, a change in what customers prefer. Almost always it hits the corporation in such a way that those of us in senior management are among the last ones to notice. I’m paraphrasing the words you used in some of your talk, Peter. But what is common to all of them and what is key is that they require a fundamental change in business strategy, and that’s almost a definition of a Strategic Inflection Point. A Strategic Inflection Point is that which causes you to make a fundamental change in business strategy. Nothing less is sufficient.”

I think Getting Innovation Right is Kahan’s most valuable and thus will become his most influential book…thus far. The information, insights, and counsel he provides in it are relevant to almost any organization, whatever its size and nature may be. Moreover, his pragmatic approach to core issues ensures that most of his focus is on what to do and how to do it. For example, consider his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices that include illustrative Figures (23 of them) and data composite Tables (four of them) as well as “Expert Input” contributions in each chapter by real executives in real situations and a “Success Rules” recap at the conclusion of Chapters 1-7.

Kahan realizes that many (if not most) effirts to crerate a workplace environment within which innovation thrives either fail ort fall far short of original expectations. Why? Reasons vary, of course, but Kahan suggests three likely causes: operational pressures, stress of continuous improvement, and changing dynamics within the given industry and/or competitive marketplace. What he offers is a cohesive, comprehensive, and cost-effective system that — with appropriate modifications, of course — by which business leaders can leverage the inflection points to expand the given customer base. When explaining HOW, Kahan focuses on five factors: (1) Current customer satisfaction, (2) Their desire for whatever is offered, (3) The current reputation of its provider, (4) A value proposition that is both (key descriptives) deliverable and sustainable, and (5) Effective outreach.

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Kahan’s ‘s coverage.

o Four Targets for Innovation Strategy (Pages 7-14)
o Using Inflection Points to Achieve Success (22-31)
o The Three Forces That Jeopardize Innovation (37-44)
o The Three Areas of Focus for Intelligence (66-71)
o Figure 3.1: The Ten Stages of the Customer Journey (78-79)
o Four Techniques for Shifting Perspective (98-106)
o The Four Forces of Disruption (110-114)
o Value Assessments (140-144)
o The Innovation Profit Cycle, The Facets of Value, and The Three Types of Added Value (151-158)
o Creating New Value (175-181)
o The Four Thresholds of Engagement (185-198)
o Build Presence Through Value Pulses (210-217)

Also, these resources:

Appendix A: Sample Business Intelligence Contract (219-222)
Appendix B: High-Level Outline of a Typical Business Plan (223-224)
Appendix C: Simplified Business Plan Financial Model (225-226)

Seth Kahan certainly achieves his ultimate objective: To introduce and explain seven key activities that will help prepare leaders in almost any organization to leverage inflection points to drive its success. By way of review, the activities are (1) pursue inflection points, (2) build innovation capacity, (3) collect intelligence, (4) shift perspective from status quo to what can and should be better, (5) exploit opportunities generated by disruption, (6) create value for all stakeholders, and (7) drive innovation uptake.

With all due respect to the wealth of information, insights, and counsel provided in this book, however, it remains for each reader to determine (a) which of the material is most relevant to the given enterprise and then (b) make a full and shared commitment with colleagues to formulate, implement, and continuously improve a results-driven, high-impact action plan. When embarked on that journey, I hope that will keep Drucker’s observation in mind: “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all.”

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