The Innovation Race: A book review by Bob Morris

The Innovation Race: How to Change a Culture to Change the Game
Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant
John Wiley & Sons (November 2016)

Why the best way to win an innovation race may be to stop viewing engagement in the process as a race to be won or lost

Note: I first reviewed this book several years ago and recenty re-read it as well as my two-part interview of Andrew and Gaia Grant. If anything, their insights are more valuable now than they were when the book was first published.

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I agree with Andrew Grant and Gaia Grant that the three words that comprise this book’s title are all very significant: “First, ‘the’ can imply there is only one approach to innovation” when in fact there are dozens, if not hundreds. “Secondly, the concept of ‘innovation’ is often bandied around without a clear understanding of what it means”; more about that later. “And lastly, there is the assumption that innovation is a ‘race,’’ an assumption challenged by Claudio Viggiani who suggests, “innovation is more of a relay race than a marathon.”

Why did the Grants write this book? “We aim to explore the contemporary concept of ‘the innovation race’ – to find out who ‘wins’, who ‘loses’, who gets ‘eliminated’ by the standard rules of the game, and why – while also challenging the metaphor to see if it provides the best basis for sustainable growth and development that benefits all. We will then explore alternatives as we progress through the book.”

In Part I (Chapters 1-4), the Grants introduce several important concepts that serve as the book’s foundation for preparing the reader for a journey of exploration (discovery of breakthrough ideas) and exploitation (stabilizing the given organization by leveraging its current strengths). Then in Part II (Chapters 5-8), they examine four paradoxical pairings related to the exploration/exploitation tension that must eventually resolved at the completion of the innovation process). Finally, in Part III (Chapters 9 and 10), they explore “the deeper culture-change challenges that can lead to mindsets that either foster or impede innovation.”

I commend the Grants on their brilliant use of several reader-friendly devices that include a brief introduction to each Part that focuses on the given “Destination(s)” and “Key Challenges Addressed” and then in each of the ten chapters, they begin with titles and subtitles that place the material to follow in sharp focus, followed by narrative and then “Production Notes” and an “Innovation Transformation Checklist.” These and other devices will also facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review later of key material.

Also noteworthy is their highly innovative use of other devices such as, in Chapter 8, “Checkpoint Summary Checklist” (Paradox synthesis: Grounded Flexibility, Stability, and Flexibility) and “Try This” (How to ensure stability, and, how to build flexibility and adaptability). How refreshing – and unusual – to have innovation discussed innovatively!

These are among the Grants’ concluding thoughts: “We believe that the ‘innovation race’ has become a perpetual serial cliffhanger, and finishing this book will by no means signify the end of the race. The critical question will be: How will we as the main characters in our own drama resolve the dilemmas we find ourselves in? And how will we, simultaneously as the producers, reframe the game? Start to think of yourself as a collaborative producer rather than simply a player or a controlling director, and you might begin to see the unique possibilities open to you and your organisation.”

Perhaps, just perhaps, the best way to win an innovation race is to stop viewing engagement in the process as a race to be won or lost. If the healthiest organizations have a “secret sauce,” that is it. However different they may be in most respects, all of them have a workplace culture within which innovation is most likely to thrive. Innovation is not what they do. Innovation is who they are…working in collaboration with others to explore new opportunities while exploiting those they already have.


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