Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Innovation and The Future Proof Bank

Some subjects are simply too large and encompassing for a slim volume. Some subjects are simply too broad and have too many facets for any author to capture fully. Innovation, by its very nature, has spawned a host of new books which provide the "secrets" of innovation success, or a helpful twelve step method, or insights into "disruptive" versus "incremental" innovation.

In his book Innovation and the Future Proof Bank, James Gardner attempts to set the record straight. While ostensibly writing to the financial services industry about innovation, he's created a book that is relevant to any innovation team, and which addresses a number of the intricate components and definitions of innovation, as well as defining an innovation process.

Gardner advocates a methodology he calls "Future Proofing", which is really a consistent innovation program scanning for new opportunities and introducing a defined innovation process that operates continually and consistently over time, creating new ideas and unveiling new products and services over time. To accomplish this "Future Proofing" status, he breaks down the elements of innovation chapter by chapter.

He first considers innovation theories and models, providing the "backstory" and the rationale for many of the approaches and tool sets innovators use successfully, starting with the Diffusion of Innovation and S-curves, and indicating the attributes of successful innovations in the past. Given that this chapter is intended to establish the models and intellectual history and rigor of innovation, he reviews Christensen's models from the Innovator's Dilemma as well.

Once he establishes the intellectual rigor and methods behind innovation, he then turns his attention to innovation in financial services firms. He examines the opportunities for innovation across five factors: products, markets, experiences, channels and business models, and finds significant opportunities for innovation across many of these features. Based on those opportunities, he also creates a maturity model for a firm that is growing in its innovation capabilities. The phases of growth include inventing, championing, managing, futurecasting and venturing. This maturity model ties nicely to one we've built and others we've seen previously.

In the next few chapters he investigates the phases of an innovation program, including "futurecasting" or what we'd call trend spotting and scenario planning, idea generation and scoring, and "execution" or the process of piloting, prototyping and launching a new innovation. In these chapters he does a good job of identifying the tools and techniques to conduct these activities and in each case provides a case study from a financial services organization.

The last sections of the book deal less with the innovation process and more with the leadership of innovation and innovation teams and the skills and capabilities required on an innovation team. These chapters are useful for individuals who need to understand how to lead an innovation team or need to attract and recruit people to an innovation team.

The Future Proof Bank, while written ostensibly to a financial services audience, can be read, understood and implemented by innovators in any industry. It is a good handbook - written much like a textbook with many footnotes and examples - for innovators of any stripe. It is a fairly exhaustive book and references many of the tomes that define innovation and establish its intellectual bona fides.

While I like the book and know that James is an excellent innovator, there are two items that seem to receive less focus than I would have expected. They are qualitative insight tools such as ethnography and voice of the customer, to acquire more insight into unmet or unarticulated and the issue of corporate culture. In our experience we've found that many firms rely far too heavily on existing quantitative research and fail to understand customer wants and needs, since qualitative research like ethnography seems a bit uncertain and difficult to quantify. My second quibble, about the cultural enablers and inhibitors to innovation, is both more obvious and more problematic. Every organizational culture has some barriers to innovation, and if they aren't adequately addressed, will hinder or block innovation. Gardner addresses some of these factors but I would have liked to see more examples of actions taken to change or impact a corporate culture. I know we get asked that question quite a bit.

If you are in the financial services world and are contemplating an innovation effort, run, don't walk, to the store and buy this and read it carefully. Even if you aren't in the financial services sector this is an exceptionally thorough and complete book about structuring an innovation program. I highly recommend it.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:47 AM


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