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What's Innovative About Innovation?

The Economist reviews “The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Challenge” by Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble.  The book addresses two broad subject areas: why innovators should pay more attention to established companies rather than start-ups and the implementation of new ideas rather than their generation.

Out: thinking big thoughts (e.g. 3M), closing the loop between ideas and results (e.g. Nucor), skunk works, breaking the rules.

In: since innovating is thought to be unnatural,  big companies should build something called a "dedicated innovation machine," making the machine part of the corporate structure...only different (e.g. Harley-Davidson, BMW, Allstate.)

So another prescription for innovation.   Tired of it yet?  How is it that such prescriptions are NOT antithetical to the very notion of innovation?  Innovation is THIS, not THAT.  Do it THIS way, not THAT way.  Use THIS company as your role model, not THAT company.

Maybe it's time to bring more innovation to the thinking and writing about innovation.  Innovation is messy and un-prescriptive, difficult to reduce to a formula, hard to model except retrospectively and even then it's very culture and situation-specific.  If it wasn't all those things, it would be called "operations" or "accounting" or something, but not innovation.

Innovation is like that Supreme Court justice who, referring to indecency, said he couldn't define it but knew it when he saw it.   A great quote but tough to boil down into an MBA curriculum.

Given 3M's outstanding, decades-long track record, it's difficult to say "Don't innovate 3M's way, do it BMW's way."  Either method may work for you...or neither.   So stop looking for the right "innovation formula."  There isn't one.   Sorry to disappoint you.

Now get out there and start being innovative about innovation.  You'll get there, so long as you accept that reading another book about innovation is about the LEAST innovative thing you can do.

(Thanks to Cool News Of the Day from for the heads-up.)


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