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Dealing with Darwin

 
2/6/2006

Influential business guru Geoffrey Moore, well known for his previous books on disruptive technologies and high tech markets, is back on the bookshelf exploring the topic of perpetual innovation.

In Crossing the Chasm, Moore explored how companies can bring cutting-edge technology products to increasingly larger markets. Inside the Tornado dealt with managing and exploiting “hypermarkets.” Darwin moves the focus from products and markets to the company itself, showing how enterprises must continually evolve through innovation to maintain competitive advantage in an increasingly commoditized world.

The title comes from Moore's belief that free-market companies operate in the same type of environment as organic systems, namely that competition for customers spurs innovation; that as customers choose their products a natural selection process leads to survival of the fittest; that each new generation of competitor starts at a higher level of competence; and that companies must show success over time or be relegated to the tar pits of history.

The key is understanding and adapting to changes in the competitive landscape. “This is a book about innovation and inertia,” Moore writes. “It seeks to address the fundamental question that Darwinism poses: How can we innovate forever? Because that is precisely what natural selection forces us to do.”

Innovation is hard work. As Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen has detailed in research over the years, successful companies often fail to see competitive challenges in the markets they dominate—they are programmed by their success to proceed as before, so they don't take the risks that innovation demands. Other companies follow the innovation march but find themselves pulled in many fruitless directions. Moore argues that innovation comes in fourteen innovation “types” ranging from simple line extensions to total market disrupters. It's the job of management to figure out which innovation type is the best fit given the maturity of the category.

In growth markets, for example, the idea is to leverage the winds of category growth and win with product leadership. More mature markets, by contrast, feature an “ongoing dynamic of refinement . . . one that lends itself to working at increasingly close quarters with your offering, with your customers, and with your processes.” Innovation here focuses on line extensions, product enhancements, marketing, and improved customer experience.

The book begins with foundational models, looking at the economics of innovation and the relationship between innovation and category maturity, as well as between innovation and business architecture. From here, Moore discusses the many aspects of managing innovation in different environments, and closes with the counterintuitive thought that corporate inertia—resistance to change—can actuallyhelp a program of sustained innovation if properly understood and effectively managed.

Moore relies on more than a hundred real-world examples from Cisco and other companies to drive home his points, making this book both a practical call for action for executives and managers at every level, as well as an adept integration of earlier research done on innovation theory.

- Sean Silverthorne

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