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Fast Innovation

 
9/26/2005

Frankly, we've grown a little weary of the flood of books on innovation let loose by HBS professor Clayton Christensen's groundbreaking The Innovator's Dilemma. We all understand that we need to innovate in order to grow, that we need to do it on a sustainable basis, and that such innovation must be part of the organization's fabric, not a bolted-on Department of Creativity. So it was with some weariness that we picked up Fast Innovation.

But we are happy to report that this work has some new things many of the other books don't, starting with a foreword by the aforementioned Christensen. According to the authors, “This is the first book to provide quantitative methods such that a CEO or manager can know that the innovation process will both meet its required delivery date and create a differential offering with a high probability of success.”

The authors propose that companies adopt three innovation imperatives:

  • Differentiation: “Providing an offering, a process, a business model, or a set of offerings which the customer believes deliver superior performance per unit of cost.”
  • Fast time-to-market: “Consistently reaching the market early enough such that differentiated offerings can earn high margins, and quickly creating a new innovation to counter the inevitable commoditization of the old.”
  • Disruptive innovations: “Creating and embracing disruptive offerings to obsolete current offerings, processes, and business models will catch the competition flat-footed and may provide great propulsive power to growth.”

The book's look at fast time-to-market is perhaps its most meaty contribution. Time and cost overruns top the CEO frustration list when it comes to the innovation process. So how to get faster? For one thing, innovation is best done with plenty of breathing room. Citing the Law of Lead Time (Little's Law), which suggests that the more active projects you have the longer it will take to complete all of them, the authors implore executives to flush out the pipeline, as GE did when it cut 1,000 research projects down to twenty that could be seen to contribute in three to five years.

The book proposes a strategic and tactical plan that it claims will help companies shorten time-to-market by 50 percent to 80 percent.

Of all the innovation books we've read post-Christensen, this one does the best at speaking the language of the CEO and other top executives, and includes examples where CEOs had to step in to ensure successful disruptive innovation took place. (Tip: Consider hiring a chief innovation officer.)

All three authors are consultants, and Michael George wrote Lean Six Sigma.

- Sean Silverthorne

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