The Innovator’s Field Guide: A book review by Bob Morris

Innovator's Field GuideThe Innovator’s Field Guide: Market Tested Methods and Frameworks to Help You Meet Your Innovation Challenges
Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswaite
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

Here’s a “comprehensive, practical how-to guide to address the most pressing innovation challenges in your organization”

Why did Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswhite write this field guide? Briefly, to help leaders in just about any organization “who seek step-change improvement in their organization’s, team’s, or individual innovation initiatives.” With regard to those initiatives, they reveal themselves to be world-class empiricists, determined to understand what, works, what doesn’t, and why, then share what they have learned with as many business leaders as possible. My reference to “business leaders” includes anyone who can provide effective leadership at any level and in any area throughout the given enterprise.

Here are the nine Principles of Innovation (i.e. “why you are doing what you’re doing”) that Skarzynski and Crosswhite introduce and discuss in detail:

1. Articulate a clear definition of innovation
2. Aim your efforts at the business concept, and focus not just on the “what” but also “who” and “why”
3. Understand that innovation means new learning
4. Earn the right to ideate through insight-driven innovation
5. Focus on strategic innovation to avoid one-off efforts
6.Make the work of innovation not merely the generating of new ideas but an end-to-end process through to successful commercialization
7. Build innovation capability through a learn-by-doing approach
8. Be systematic and systemic in your approach
9. Embrace and employ open innovation.
#Re #9, I highly recommend Henry Chesbrough’s classic work, Open Innovation: The New Imperative for Creating and Profiting from Technology.

Readers will appreciate Skarzynski and Crosswhite’s provision, at the beginning of Chapters 2-10, a set of key Qs they will address in the material to follow and then a set of “Key Take-Aways” at the chapter’s conclusion. Throughout their lively and eloquent narrative, they explain HOW TO:

o Increase your innovation IQ through insight-driven experimentation
o Enable breakthrough innovation
0 Develop a nascent idea to a business concept
o Expedite fast innovation
o Derive maximum advantage from experimentation and risk-taking

Note: Ryan Babineaux and John Krumboltz also have much of value to say about this process in Fail Fast, Fail Often: How Losing Can Help You Win

o Innovate while actively engaged in marketing (i.e. creating or increasing demand)
o Organize for innovation
o Lead innovation
o Get started

I agree with Skarzynski and Crosswhite that innovation is difficult “because organizations are structured and managed to execute their current model, and innovation — focuses on creating the new one. You seek to create new concepts for the core business, for adjacencies, and for outside the core. There are healthy tensions between a focus on the new and the critically important need to manage and execute today’s business. Each is important, and each requires continuous learning.”

They alert their reader to six “common pitfalls” and explain why each is erroneous, indeed self-defeating.” Here they are, each discussed in depth (Pages 251-252):

Misconception #1: Innovation is about tools and process only.
Reality: It’s about new learning. “Tools and process are simply codified and organized scaffolding to help you to get that learning.”

#2: Innovation is about technology only.
Reality: It’s about the job (e.g. answer a question, solve a problem) the customer hires the technology to do. ”

#3: Innovation is about ideas or creativity only.
Reality: “If innovation equals a new idea successfully commercialized, then there is a lot more to innovation than just ideation or creativity.” Taking a limited view of what is possible severely limits chances for high-impact innovation.

#4: Commercialization is about execution, not innovation.
Reality: The “we got it” view tends to ignore many other elements of the business model such as pricing, channel, and market support. “You must think through and challenge all elements of the business concept…and thereby widen the innovation aperture.”

#5: Innovation can be delegated down.
Reality: Senior-level management must be “actively engaged in creating the points of view on both content (innovations0 and process (capability). When they do that, the process gains traction” and sustains it.

#6: The work of innovation stops at launch.
Reality: The most innovative companies “make proactive efforts and deploy mechanisms to perpetuate postlaunch learning and iteration to capture ‘upside’ on opportunities already in market.”

As indicated, Peter Skarzynski and David Crosswhite discuss all this in great detail. I commend them on the abundance of information, insights, and counsel that are provided in this field guide. This material can help leaders in almost any organization — whatever its size and nature may be — to meet its innovation challenges. Bravo!

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