Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Book Review: Stoking your innovation bonfire

In his new book Stoking your innovation bonfire Braden Kelley has developed a thesis that's near and dear to my innovation heart.  The thesis is that innovation must be considered a sustainable, repeatable capacity tightly linked to business strategy and vision.  Further, the "innovation engine" - that is, the capabilities, tools and processes for innovation - must be well defined and designed to work together.  Finally he identifies the cultural mores and attitudes that act as barriers to innovation or enablers to innovation within the third section of the book.  These three categories - linkage to strategy, well defined processes and a culture that embraces innovation - are the key ingredients in any innovation success story.

I'll review the book based on this mnemonic.

About strategy Kelley writes that "a well defined innovation strategy helps the organization define which innovation challenges to focus on and what tactics will best help the organization overcome those challenges...A good innovation strategy should communicate to the organization the kinds of innovation that will be most valuble to the organization...Ideally an innovation strategy will support the organizational strategy."

That's innovation strategy in a nutshell:  think of innovation as an enabler to corporate strategies, align the business and the innovation effort to achieve those strategies and continuously communicate your innovation goals.  No firm that I've worked with spends nearly enough time articulating the goals and communicating the goals and expectations for innovation to their staff.

In the section on innovation engines, Kelley simplifies the innovation "engine" into two key capabilities:
  1. The quality of the insights a company has identified to build ideas upon
  2. The organization's ability to turn their insight driven ideas into reality
These are the key issues.  First, what insights does your firm have?  Not what you think you know, but what you've actually gone out and discovered in the customer or prospect base.  Too many firms perform "inside-out" innovation, which we define as extending existing products and services and seeking customers who will acquire those products, rather than pursuing "outside-in" innovation, which we define as understanding the world from the customers' perspective.   Second, once you have the insights and are tightly aligned with corporate strategy, what is your firm's capability to quickly and easily generate and manage ideas so that they become new products and services?  A well-defined innovation process is essential.

Kelley talks about "innovating for the future" which is another point that we like to emphasize.  Simply identifying a need isn't enough, if your product development cycle time is two or three years.  You have to ensure that the need will still be relevant in the time in which you can service the need with a new product, or introduce scenario planning into your innovation effort to understand what the environment looks like when you can produce a new product.  Kelley writes "The ideal is to design a product based on customer insights appropriate to the time of the product launch to maximize the useful life of the customer insights."

In the last section of the book Kelley addresses innovation structure and culture, and focuses on the important aspects of culture that influence innovation.  For example, many firms only innovate in a crisis, or consider innovation a project rather than a sustaining capability.  People understand the difference between what is said about innovation and the commitment and investment made to support innovation, and will act accordingly.

Stoking your innovation bonfire is a useful book that belongs on the shelf of anyone working on an innovation effort.  It covers all of the important aspects of innovation and offers a number of insightful case studies.

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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:05 AM


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