Book Reviews: Innovation, Technology and Operations

Corporate Portals: Revolutionizing Information Access to Increase Productivity and Drive the Bottom Line, by Heidi Collins, AMACOM.
This book is about putting information technology to work to create a stronger organization through optimizing access of information. This book presents the corporate portal solution—a convergence of IT technologies that aggregate information into a central location. From there, employees can easily access relevant information, increasing their productivity, improving decision making, and overall, achieving superior business results. Intranets have been a partial solution but have many problems. The intranet concept that resolves these problems is the corporate portal. The book goes into detail about its features, strategy development, making the business case and implementation. Packed with excellent diagrams and checklists, this is an outstanding work. It becomes technical when it delves into developing the solution, but its presentation of the concept is very accessible. Top-notch. 394 pp. 2001.

Creativity at Work: Developing the Right Practices to Make Innovation Happen, by Jeff DeGraff and Katherine A. Lawrence. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.
The book is about the using creative practices to achieve business value. The authors show that creativity occurs at many stages in the process of generating, developing, making, and selling new products, services, and processes, not just in the creation of new ideas. They discuss four areas of creativity. Imagine practices: breakthrough ideas or a vision of the future. Invest Practices: uses discipline to produce financial value with limited risk. Improve practices: incremental creativity through modular design and development, and process improvement systems. Incubate practices: sustainable creativity through talent scouting and idea spaces. The art of creativity leadership and management is a blending of all four. Includes many tools such as a creativity assessment instrument, cases, and chapter summaries. This is a first-rate, high-quality book! 220 pp. 2002.

The Design of Things to Come: How Ordinary People Create Extraordinary Products, by Craig M Vogel, Jonathan Caga, and Peter Boatwright. Wharton Center for Human Resources.
The authors, as researchers, consultants and teachers, bring both knowledge and experience to this book in discussion what they have identified: consistent patterns that lead to successful innovation. They explore innovation to reveal what it is, why it is important, and how you can begin to transform yourself and your company to meet the needs of the marketplace. Of special interest is that this book is also about people who are at the heart of innovation. The people spotlighted are those who consume and those who innovate. An important theme is that innovation "is the only approach to differentiation." The opening chapters examine the new breed of innovator (a balance of pragmatic business person and creator, and one who balances the strategic big picture with particular product programs needs), as well as the process of innovation, and how it is applied. The remainder of the book delves into various aspects of the innovation process. Many case studies about people and companies that innovate to meet market demand, consumer and B2B. The book's bottom line is a step-by-step guide to help the reader through the subtleties of the innovation process. The reader will find this book well written, absorbing, and highly informative. The authors deliver depth and insights, skillfully showing how creative people work in a business environment and produce a profitable product or service. Very highly recommended. 237pp. 2005.

Driving Growth Through Innovation, by Robert B. Tucker. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.
The focus of the book is on showing how firms must redefine innovation and redesign their process of innovation. Among many subjects, Key subjects that Tucker covers are: improving organizational culture for greater innovation effectiveness; empowering the idea management process; approaches to scanning for new business opportunities; ideation, the systematic process of looking for ideas using state of the art techniques; approaches to new product development; and generating growth strategies. This is a very well written, thoughtful, and highly informative work. 242 pp. 2002.

Empowering Intranets to Improve Strategy, Build Teamwork, and Manage Change, by D. Keith Denton, Quorum Books / Praeger Publishers.
This is a book about an Internet technology and its applications. It provides an approach for using Intranets to help implement strategy and build teamwork. The book's managerial concepts are delivered through Internet technology and new software (Quick Status). Along with its companion Web site, the book provides an innovative solution that integrates and displays critical information in real time. The technology has the power to: condense reports from many functions into one interactive report; establish two-way communication to allow employee participation at all levels; and graphically display the status of all key organizational and group performance measures, and much more. Very rich in conceptual and technical content. 266 pp. 2002.

Experimentation Matters: Unlocking the Potential of New Technologies to Innovate, by Stefan H. Thomke, Harvard Business School Press.
New technologies are making it easier and more economical to experiment with new products, services, and the like. This book explores the possibilities and examines the challenges, not only technological, but also managerial and organizational. It discusses how companies need to organize for experimentation and explores the deeper issues regarding human motivation and behavior, values, and thinking. It explores how new technologies can impact product development and presents concrete principles for managing innovation. This is a highly informative, thoughtful and comprehensive work. Very highly recommended. 306 pp. 2003.

How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate, by Andrew Hargadon, Harvard Business School Press.
This book reveals a that leading innovators exploit the networked nature of the innovative process (technology brokering), which involves combining existing objects, ideas, and people. The innovation process uses the knowledge and efficiencies that reside in elements of existing technologies. The book looks backstage at historic places and events, like Edison's Menlo Park lab, and at current organizations that pursue technology brokering. 254 pp. 2003.

Innovation: Driving Product, Process, and Market Change, by Edward B. Roberts, Editor. Jossey-Bass Inc., Publishers.
This is a collection of 12 articles previously published in MIT Sloan Management Review. Topics cover: how a company can strategically redefine its business; creativity versus structure; integration of activities in new product development; a strategy for achieving rapid delivery cycles in the creation of new products; planning for new product platforms; choosing between alliances and acquisitions; outsourcing innovation; developing a dedicated alliance function; the importance of business location in creating and commercializing new ideas; use of software in the innovation process to improve quality, shorten cycle times, and lower costs; innovation by user communities; and counter-intuitive approaches that spark innovation. A rich, diverse and interesting collection. Highly recommended. 343 pp. 2002.

The Map of Innovation: Creating Something Out of Nothing, by Kevin O'Connor, Crown Business, Random House.
The book is about being creative systematically and bringing your ideas to market. This book reveals how to winnow down ideas to one that offers the greatest chance of success and focus on it, exclusively, to successfully bring it to market and make money. The author shares his techniques (such as brainstorming prioritization technique) for forcing innovation, using technology, discovering a product or service that satisfies customer needs, and turning it into a business. This is pragmatic work, written by a highly successful entrepreneur for entrepreneurial people. 256 pp. 2003.

New Ideas About New Ideas: Insights on Creativity From the World's Leading Innovators, by Shira P. White. Perseus Books.
Based on interviews with over one-hundred business leaders, scientists and artists, the author has distilled numerous insights into the creative process and the keys to understanding creativity. Chapters concern such topics as: where innovation begins; new approaches to idea-development; bringing new ideas to life;valuing ideas; and how winning ideas survive. This book is interesting and offers excellent value to the reader. Highly recommended. 325 pp. 2002.

Portfolio Management for New Products, by Robert G. Cooper.Scott J. Edgett and Elko J. Kleinschmidt. Perseus Books.
Presents a step-by-step framework for R&D and product management. Sets forth the principles of portfolio management and shows how to manage a portfolio of products as if it were a financial portfolio. Covers strategy, methods and the specifics of the portfolio management process, using practices of leading firms. Provides lots of illustrations, detail, and guidelines. Informative and original in its perspective. Very highly recommended. 256 pp. 2002.

Seeing What's Next: Using the Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change, by Clayton M. Christensen, Scott D. Anthony, and Erik A. Roth. Harvard Business School Press.
The theme is "(u)sing theory allows us to see the future more clearly and act more confidently to shape our destiny." Using case studies, the authors outline a model, diagnostics and tools to allow decision makers to spot industry-changing firms or business models, forecast winners and losers, and assess the merits and implications of specific strategic choices. The book's foundation is built on the premise that "(t)he best way to make accurate sense of the present, and the best way to look into the future, is through the lens of theory. Good theory provides a robust way to understand important developments, even when data is limited. And theory is even more important when there is an abundance of data. ... Theory helps to block out the noise and to amplify the signal." This book reveals how to use theory to see the future. The authors' aim is to teach readers how to use the theories of innovation to predict industry change. The central elements of the authors' approach are: tracking the signals of change; sizing up competitors; and identifying which choices matter. It's hard to do justice to book so abounding in ideas and insights. The bottom line is that this is a great book for anyone who must strategically plan for any organization. Read this book next to start seeing what's next. 310 pp. 2004.

The Venture Imperative: A New Model for Corporate Innovation, by Heidi Mason and Tim Rohner. Harvard Business School Press.
Presents an approach to venturing (growth through innovation and new market penetration) and a formalized corporate venture process--a tested framework for turning new ideas into reality. The book provides an in-depth look at the stages of venture development which trace the evolution of a venture from idea to sustainable, scalable business. The focus is not on one-time initiatives but the creation of a platform for ongoing activity to create a product or set of products that bring with them numerous other businesses. The model for venturing includes such features as a venture business office and venture executive officer. Illustrations abound. Well-structured, comprehensive, and highly informative. 356 pp. 2002.

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation, by Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes. The Free Press.
The theme of this short and interesting book is that the less we scurry after success and run from failure, the more likely we are to succeed. For success, failures must be tolerated. In short chapters and sections, the authors drive their lessons home, using stories and well-written text. The book gives some good insights and makes a number of on-the-mark points. Enjoyable reading from start to finish. 130 pp. 2002.

Workflow Management: Models, Methods and Systems, by Wil van der Aalst and Kees van Hoe, MIT Press.
A detailed, clearly-written comprehensive introduction to workflow management. Covers workflow terminology and an in-depth explanation of workflow modeling using Petri nets: a tool for modeling and analyzing processes. While technical, the book makes the subject clear through carefully-worded definitions and illustrations. Highly recommended. 368 pp. 2002.