ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — August 2003

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Changing Attitudes and Accelerating Change
Coaching and Performance Reviews—Time for Some Changes
Leading Wholeheartedly: A Quality Approach
Negotiating for Quality
Looking Toward the Future

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Driving Growth Through Innovations: How Leading Firms Are Transforming Their Futures
by Robert B. Tucker
Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2002
ISBN: 1-57675-187-2
Hardcover, 240 pages.
List price $27.95
Overall Rating: * * * Snail mail it

There are essentially only two ways to increase profits—to reduce expenses or to increase income. Reducing expenses rarely has the desired long-term effect—especially after years of supplier partnering (reducing the cost of purchased materials and services), employee concessions and layoffs (reducing the cost of labor), and quality assurance initiatives (maximizing the useful output of available resources). Even if costs drop to zero, an organization’s bottom line will never be more than its top line (what it receives for its goods and services). For long-term growth, leaders need to focus on this top line, looking for new products, processes, and markets that have the potential to radically change the results of the profit equation.

In Driving Growth Through Innovation, Robert Tucker states (p. 178) that, “The days when you could build a better mousetrap and customers would beat a path to your door are over.” He positions innovation as the essential mechanism for sustaining long-term profits and proves his point by citing a wealth of research on the subject. He then focuses on the practices of 23 “Innovation Vanguard” companies, using their success (and failure) stories to flesh out five principles for driving growth through innovation while presenting practical elements of an innovation process. These five principles (quoted from p. 5) are:

  1. Innovation must be approached as a discipline.
  2. Innovation must be approached comprehensively.
  3. Innovation must include an organized, systematic, and continual search for new opportunities.
  4. Innovation must involve everyone in the organization.
  5. Innovation must be customer-centered.

Chapters provide strategies on different aspects of innovation. Discussions include detailed ideas for tactical implementation and anecdotes of both what has worked and what hasn’t. Extensive source citations and reference notes are also included, along with an index. Key topics covered include:

  • Five essential strategies for leading innovation.
  • Eleven strategies for creating a culture that fosters innovation.
  • Eight management models and 10 guidelines for empowering the idea management process.
  • Six strategies for how to “mine” the future for ideas.
  • Seven strategies for “fortifying the idea factory.”
  • Six product innovation strategies.
  • Six strategies for generating growth.
  • Seven strategies for selling new ideas.

In addition to all this strategic advice, there are also more than 40 questions provided to help leaders design their own 21st century innovation strategy. These questions guide leaders to probe their current readiness for accepting and adopting innovative ideas, and challenge them to create an organization capable of an innovative breakthrough in the future.

Ultimately, that is the true message of the book: An organization cannot simply benchmark what others are doing to achieve innovation and cherry-pick the most interesting to adopt. Rather, leaders must customize the strategies and tactics to their own circumstances and work to develop an innovation process that is uniquely their own.

Leaders from large organizations will find plenty of food for thought in this book. Those from small firms may have some difficulty connecting with the large-company anecdotes and will be challenged to adjust strategies to a smaller scale. Those not in a leadership role will need to think through which strategies can be adapted to their own jobs. Yet, even if not immediately translatable into action, the vision of what could be can inspire readers to look beyond what they are currently doing toward a more innovative future.

You won’t find any dramatic revelations or breakthrough ideas in this book. It’s not a page-turner that will keep you spellbound to the last period. Nor will you find a magic spell that will instantly make your organization more innovative. What you will find is a readable book filled with good solid ideas and practical advice combined with examples of how some companies have actually made these concepts work.

 

CHRISTINE ROBINSON has more than 25 years of leadership experience in quality systems for the process industries. She has a master’s degree in quality, values, and leadership from Marian College. An avid reader, she spends a significant amount of her time with her nose in books and her body at the library.

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