The First Mile: A book review by Bob Morris

First MileThe First Mile: A Launch Manual for Getting Great Ideas into the Market
Scott D. Anthony
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” Howard Akin

Those who have read any of Scott Anthony’s previously books – notably The Little Black Book of Innovation, The Silver Lining, The Innovator’s Guide to Growth, and Seeing What’s Next, co-authored with Clayton M. Christensen and Erik A. Roth — already know that no one else has a better understanding of what innovation is and isn’t than he does. I have read and reviewed all of them and thus was especially excited as I began to read his latest and, in my opinion, his most valuable book, The First Mile. In my opinion, it is his most valuable book thus far, for reasons that will soon become obvious.

What he offers is essentially an operations manual for anyone in need of information, insights, and counsel to get their ideas to market, faster and with much greater impact. As Anthony explains, “The first mile is a perilous place. Hidden traps snare entrepreneurs, and seemingly never-ending roadblocks slow innovators inside large companies. It’s easy to make a wrong turn on the path to the magical combination of z deep customer need, a compelling solution, and a powerful economic model. Creating new things always takes longer and always costs more than you think, making it all too easy to run out of fuel.”

I agree with Anthony that any new idea, especially one that is promising, is in greatest danger during the first mile (stage, phase, etc.) of its existence. I also agree with him that the scientific management of strategic uncertainty is the key to its survival. More specifically, he recommends DEFT — a process that involves four stages: documentation, evaluation, focus, and testing — and devotes a separate chapter to each of the four. Before embarking on that perilous journey, he suggests, potential value of the given idea should be determined according to three criteria:

1. It must address a legitimate market or customer need.
2. It must address the need in a reliable and compelling way.
3. It must be capable of creating value according to metrics that are relevant to the opportunity.

To aid in that process, Anthony provides a set of 27 questions that must be answered with clarity and candor. He also recommends and briefly discusses the utility of three “capture tools” and, in fact, fills the reader’s toolbox with countless others by the book’s conclusion. The first is an “idea resume,” originally introduced in a book, The Innovator’s Guide to Growth (2008); next, “the business model canvas” that Osterwalder and Pigneur thoroughly explain their book, Business Model Generation (2010); and then a mini-business plan, one that incorporates all of the strengths of one formulated by Wildfire’s founders. Table 2-1 (on Pages 37-38) provides an overview of that plan. Anthony also includes four “Watch-Outs” to keep in mind when using any of the tools he offers. I commend him on his brilliant use of reader-friendly devices. In addition to Tables, he also uses “Overviews” and “Key Messages from This Chapter” section to focus on key material. These and other devices will facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of especially important material later.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Anthony’s coverage.

o The Scientific Method and Strategic Uncertainty (Pages 14-19)
o The Next Step: Twenty-Seven Innovation Questions (29-33)
o Four Watch-Outs (39-44)
o Pattern-Based Analysis (47-50)
o How to Prioritize Uncertainties (69-81)
o Keep Teams Small and Focused (84-89)
o “The First Mile Readiness Check List” (137-138)
o Challenge #1: Make a Wrong Term (144-168)
o Decision-Making Systems That Pierce through the “Fog of Innovation” (172-191)
o Seek Chaos (199-206)
o Parting Thoughts (207-208)

With regard to Scott Anthony’s concluding remarks, they include his hope that those who read his latest book will “at the very least approach innovation with more confidence by understanding what they can do to more scientifically manage its risks.” A careful reading and then (hopefully) a careful re-reading of this book will help his readers to develop the ability to handle ambiguity and uncertainty, to embrace rather than fear chaos with diversified networks and a variety of skills when challenged in unexpected ways. True, the first mile is uniquely perilous but is also true that those who read this book will be well-prepared to achieve much greater progress, faster, than would probably be possible during subsequent miles.

I have a concluding thought of my own: The two appendices, “Innosight Ventures Assessment Tool” and “Cognitive Biases and the First Mile,” all by themselves, are worth far more than the cost of the complete book.
Amazon US now sells it for $16.60. That’s not a bargain, that’s a steal.

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