Ninja Innovation: A book review by Bob Morris

Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Companies
Gary Shapiro
William Morrow/An Imprint of HarperCollins (2013)

To defeat an opponent, do something unexpected: “Innovate or die”

Most opponents of samurai and ninja warriors die in combat. As Gary Shapiro acknowledges, opponents of the world’s most successful business do not (literally) die in competition but they can suffer significant damage in their competitive marketplace.

For example, what do these ten major companies share in common?

Arthur Andersen
Circuit City
Compaq Computer
Eastern Airlines
General Foods
Pan American World Airways
Standard Oil

The answer? All were industry leaders at one time, and, all are no longer in business.

What happened? Of all that Shapiro has learned about the business world thus far, one of the most valuable lessons is this: “The only way you can defeat your opponent is if you do something he does not expect; you must innovate or die.” Leaders of the ten once healthy companies I just listed — and of countless others — never learned or ignored that simple lesson. “Ninja innovation is my catch all phrase for what it takes to succeed. You have to display the qualities of the ancient Japanese ninja., whose only purpose was to complete the job.” Unlike a samurai, “he wasn’t bound by precedent; he had to invent new ways. He didn’t have the luxury of numbers; he had to make due with a small group of professionals. He wasn’t asked to do the ordinary; he had to perform extraordinary tasks.”

In this exciting as well as enlightening book, Shapiro focuses on “ten killer strategies of the world’s most successful companies.” Their leaders develop the ninja mindset, then apply it in ways and to an extent the given situation requires, no matter how unorthodox that may be. With a samurai opponent, you know exactly what you’re up against. Against a ninja, you probably won’t know what hit you.

In my opinion, the best source for developing a ninja mindset is Sun Tzu’s Art of War. In the “Estimates” chapter, for example, he advises, when weak, seem strong…and vice versa; when far away, seem near…and vice versa; when exhausted, seem refreshed…and vice versa. You get the idea.

Gary Shapiro is convinced that ninjas “are those who change the world. Ninja innovators think about what can be, rather than what is.  They make goals, They achieve. They stretch themselves, and in doing so attain great joy.They challenge themselves to make things happen. They live life fully.

“Anyone can be a ninja. Being a ninja is a way of looking at the world. It is a philosophy of being your best. A way of solving problems. A commitment to making yourself and your enterprise better…Ninjas imagine the future and then create it.” So can you. Hillel the Elder offers this challenge: “If not now, when? If not you, who?”


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