The Innovator’s Method: A book review by Bob Morris

Innovator's MethodThe Innovator’s Method: Bringing the Lean Start-up into Your Organization
Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer
Harvard Business Review Press (2014)

How to use the right tools to test, validate, and commercialize new ideas

According to Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer, the innovator’s method is a process “by which successful innovators manage the uncertainty of innovation – a process to test and validate a creative insight before wasting resources building and launching a product customers don’t actually want. We’ve found that this method is widely used by the most successful innovators in start-ups as well as established companies.” Moreover, “Increasingly evidence suggests that our familiar management techniques work poorly when applied to the context of uncertainty — for nailing it — our term for deeply understanding the uncertainty and resolving it well.”

Through a process of trial-and-error, initiatives in innovation (whatever their nature and circumstances may be) leave no doubt that validation or invalidation requires a new set of management principles. This book is best viewed as an operations manual to accompany the tools needed to test, validate, and commercialize new ideas. Furr and Dyer also have much of value to say about how to generate those ideas. My own opinion is that innovators today are comparable with medieval alchemists who attempt to convert raw materials into precious metals. Then and now, a crucible is essential and the process Furr and Dyer recommend serves that function.

These are among the dozens of passages of special interest to me:

o Uncertainty (15-23)
o Minimum “awesome” products (33-35 and 111-137)
o Management training and innovation (43-47)
o Building broad and deep expertise (54-58)
o Insights/Hindustan Unilever (67-84)
o Job-to-be-done/customer problems/”five whys” questioning process (85-110)
o Generating solutions/solutions storming (111-116)
o Kinds of prototypes/prototyping at Google (118-132)
o Key components in business models (143-163)
o Peter Thiel (167-169 and 174-175)
o Transition from innovation to execution (187-189)
o Adoption lifecycle and innovation/communication strategies (193-200)
o Applying innovator’s method in teams (213-216)
o Disruptive and incremental innovation (221-228)
o Results of innovator’s method at Amazon (239-240)

Here are Furr and Dyer’s concluding remarks: “Whether you’re a leader, a manager, an entrepreneur, or an individual contributor, we know you can apply this method to resolve uncertainty, wherever you face it, whether in internal processes or external innovations, at lower cost and with greater success than ever before. The innovator’s method will help you creatively solve problems that you face in both your professional and personal life. Most of all, you can use these tools to learn more quickly than others — and in this era of uncertainty, speed of learning is the new competitive is the new competitive advantage. We look forward to seeing you use these tools to cross each new finish line first, wherever that may be.”

For thousands of years, humans have struggled to fill a need with something that is new or better than what they have. It could be a device like a stirrup or a process like conversion of steam into a source of power. With all due respect to the traditional trial and error process, the fact remains that innovators today need a better method by which to test, evaluate, and commercialize those new ideas that need to be validated. This process must be much faster and more reliable. There can be no guarantees, of course. No method is infallible unless executed by perfect people.

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and counsel provided by Nathan Furr and Jeff Dyer’s in this book but I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of it. Their massive research and rigorous analysis of what it reveals are the focus of this book: In terms of testing, validating, and commercializing new ideas, what works, what doesn’t…and why.

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