In this short and very readable book, Greg Satell unpacks the different types of innovation and the challenges involved in developing an effective innovation strategy for a business. Whilst the focus and case studies of the book are drawn from the corporate world, the insights are also valuable for those trying to navigate much smaller businesses through this highly disruptive age.
The first two chapters of the book are devoted to an exploration of the true nature of innovation, and how it happens in the real world. The answer is, perhaps inevitably, that it is never an isolated event and is invariably the result of numerous combinations, some deliberate and others accidental, that eventually coalesce to create something new and valuable.
A core premise of the book is that the core innovation-related challenge for any business is to match the right innovation strategy to the challenges that business is trying to meet; and that this can be achieved by asking two simple questions: How well is the problem defined, and how well is the domain defined, meaning the capabilities required to solve it.
These two questions form the axes of a 2 x 2 matrix which offers a framework to understand the four different types of innovation strategy available: basic research (neither the problem nor domain are well defined), breakthrough innovation (only the problem is well defined), sustaining innovation (both are well defined) and disruptive innovation (only the domain is well defined - solutions in search of a problem).
Mr Satell explores each of these strategies in depth, using examples of corporates that have deployed each of them either separately, or in parallel. He continues to lay out some of the challenges involved in creating new business models to leverage innovations and disrupt markets, and to explain how modern-day innovation has evolved from a 'research and develop' activity to a 'connect and develop' activity that necessarily leverages the power of open-source collaboration and platforms rather than seeking to protect proprietary knowledge and develop in-house solutions at all costs; which has become all but impossible and risks the corporate owner being left behind by the collective power of the wider community.
The practical vein of the book continues as Mr Satell offers a framework for considering the appropriate balance of investment in the four different types of innovation, including the option not to invest in one or more of them, and in tackling the challenges of innovating at scale; drawing on Microsoft's fascinating corporate history and innovation strategies over time. The afterword offers some guidance on developing our own innovation playbook.
However it is the final chapter of the book that is perhaps the most thought-provoking of all, as Mr Satell sets out different visions, both optimistic and dystopian, for the future of innovation in the 21st century.
So this is both a practical guidebook to a complex topic, and a thoroughly researched piece of academic work that will leave you thoughtful about the path ahead.