Need, Speed, and Greed: A book review by Bob Morris

Need, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems
Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran
Harper Business/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2012)

A brilliant examination of “the new paradigm for sustainable economic development in the twenty-first century”

How innovation happens is rapidly changing. The result is the emergence of what Vijay Vaitheeswaran characterizes as a global “Ideas Economy.” For example, after winning a contest Trevor Rose learned about when visiting the website of InnoCentive (a spin-off from the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly), Rose articulates the essence of the Ideas Economy: “I like the idea of being an InnoCentive solver because for me it’s like a little billboard that will say to those who doubted me in life that [having finally overcome a ‘lifetime’ of frustrated attempts at innovation’] maybe they are wrong and I am a lot cleverer than I look.” There is also the motivation to make a difference: “I do like the possibility that something I thought of might help someone in a country where the economy is very tough already, and perhaps make their lives easier in some way…I hope so.”

To me, Rose demonstrates the power of what Vaitheeswaran characterizes as “fresh thinking that creates something valuable, whether for individuals, firms, or society at large.” Almost anyone anywhere, whatever the given circumstances (especially resources) can take full advantage of the more democratic models of innovation that stress inclusion, collaboration, transparency, and social benefit. As Clayton Christensen has so eloquently explained in several books (notably in The Innovator’s Dilemma), “sustaining technologies” produce incremental, evolutionary improvement where as “disruptive technologies that challenge traditional thinking and the models that thinking produces.

The title of this book suggests that the new rules of innovation are based on three cornerstones: Need (to extend, deepen, and enrich the benefits of the global Ideas Economy), Speed (to accelerate the democratization of innovation), and Greed (good but only if “a more muscular [U.S.] government plays its proper role so that the playing field of capitalism is no longer rigged in favor of dirty industries, inefficient markets, and shirt-term payouts”). In Wall Street, Gordon Gecko (played by Michael Douglas) insists that greed is good. In the sequel, after Gecko is released from a federal prison, he announces that greed is not only good, “now it’s legal” or at least condoned. However, the “greed” that Vaitheeswaran endorses is one that enriches the best interests of huumanity rather than the net worth of individuals such as Gecko.

I agree with Vaitheeswaran that, for whatever reasons, there is an emerging trend in corporate boardrooms to move away from short-termism and dishonest accounting and toward the aforementioned level playing field. “That is the foundation stone of the Ideas Economy and the path to inclusive growth, the new paradigm for sustainable economic development in the twenty-first century.”

Vijay Vaitheeswaran concludes his brilliant book with The Disruptive Dozen: The New Rules of Global Innovation. Listed and briefly discussed on Pages 260-262, these new rules combine insights, admonitions, and guidelines for executives who are determined to lead their organizations through a process of collaborative reinvention and transformation. To be sure, that process is perilous. However, the democratization of innovation, “once the preserve of technocratic elites in ivory towers, offers hope that the grand challenges of this new century can indeed be tackled.”


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