Book Reviews: Innovation-Part 2

Adner, Ron. The wide lens : a new strategy for innovation. Portfolio/Penguin, 2012.

McQuivey, James. Digital disruption : unleashing the next wave of innovation. Forrester Research / Amazon, 2013. also in audiobook format.

This review is the second in a series on new books on innovation. The first review is here.

One afternoon twenty years ago, a large and energetic man burst into the Ford Library and, in a booming voice, asked for the book “that listed cool things that have not been invented yet.”  This was years before publishers released the flood of new books about innovation.  Today the library has a deep collection on the topic, and there is still no resource to answer the man’s question.  Today’s review highlights two new books in the Ford Library collection, which provide a fresh perspective on what it takes to remain competitive through innovation.

Ron Adner has been researching, writing and consulting about innovation throughout his career as strategy professor at Dartmouth.  In The Wide Lens, he explains that not all great innovations become successful.  An exceptional company may identify key customer needs, deliver a first-class product and beat the competition to market, yet in the end, the innovation may fail.  Adner argues that companies need to understand that even with perfect customer insight and flawless implementation, success in innovation also depends on partners who may also need to innovate and adapt in order for the innovation project to be successful.  Adner calls his new perspective “a wide lens” and in his new book, he introduces a framework that exposes interdependencies, both overt and hidden, and he shows how to manage them.

Innovating companies have always faced execution risk, the challenge of delivering a new product within specification and on time.  But as the global business environment grows increasingly interdependent, innovators operate within a complex ecosystem composed of a matrix of partner companies, such as suppliers, distributors and retailers.   Adner describes two additional types of risk that occur within the ecosystem, which he terms co-innovation risk and adoption chain risk.  Much of his book is about identifying these risks, assessing the alternatives and mitigating the effects. To make dependencies in the ecosystem explicit, he outlines specific steps in creating a map or blueprint.  This thoughtful and important book also provides many examples of successful and unsuccessful innovations with insightful stories from companies, such as Apple,, Michelin and Pfizer.

James McQuivey is a leading analyst at Forrester Research and in Digital Disruption he explains that, in the digital environment, free and low cost tools are available that enable almost anyone to develop an innovation and become a competitor.  In the traditional business environment, innovation arises among leading competitors within a particular industry.  But in the digital environment, the barrier to entry is quite low and competition can come at great speed and from any direction, including companies outside the industry or from individuals worldwide.  Even children with a few key digital tools at home can bring an idea to market, test it, refine it and disrupt a market.

While the author references Clayton Christiansen’s book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, in the first chapter, “What is Digital Disruption?”, McQuivey does not define digital disruption clearly. To fully understand and appreciate this book, a reader needs this foundation.  McQuivey outlines dozens of stories of successful digital disruptors throughout the book as he encourages the reader to adopt the proper mind-set, to invest cheaply and to generate ideas quickly.  This short book is repetitive in places but readers already acquainted with digital technologies may find some new ideas.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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