Book Review : HBR Top 10 Must Reads – On Innovation

Published April 4, 2017 by vishalvkale


In my previous reviews on HBR { Harvard Busines Review } books, I have noted the penchant for a top-level approach; lack of data and concrete detailed examples as opposed to the shortened snippets they give. In this, the third HBR book I am reviewing, these errors are repeated; that said – this one is easily the best I have read from the HBR stable. In fact, this book is among the best Business Books I have ever read, though not quite The Best. I would highly recommend Middle Managers and above to read and absorb the contents

The current book under review looks at Innovation; at the end of the book, I can honestly state that I understand not only innovation, but can also apply the concepts contained in the book to my real world experience in the Telecom Trade, and can identify errors and craft a rudimentary path forward which is clearly superior to the ones adopted by either self, or my managers at that point in time. The content has helped clarify some issues, unlearn some concepts; as well as broken new ground by teaching new processes and methods of daily tactical operation as well as strategy
The key articles that I highly recommend reading carefully, and certainly more than once in this book are Stop The Innovation Wars, Is It Real –Can We Win – Is It Worth Doing?, Innovation – The Classic Traps and Discovery Driven Planning. While I haven’t mentioned the other articles, let me clarify that most of the articles are really good, well thought through & presented. It is just that the ones above are those that made the biggest impression on me, as well as taught me the most.
To be frank, there are small learnings scattered through the pages of the other articles that I haven’t mentioned. In The Innovation Catalysts, one can see the importance of experimentation; In the article How GE is disrupting itself, the importance of unstinting support from the Top Management is driven home, given that innovations and new strategies are by definition risky. There are similar small and pertinent learnings to be had from almost every article, which is what makes this book special.
It would be a capital mistake for people at junior and middle levels to ignore such books; as I observed above, I was able to practically apply the concepts contained herein in the real world to gain a better deeper understanding of successes as well as failures; and was able to craft a far superior response in terms of self KRAs as well as identify problems from above, with ideas of how to tackle them. Such books  open new paths, give new ideas and serve as excellent refreshers. It is with a sense of deep regret that I note that the modern world manager regards management literature as a sign of being bookish; it is looked down upon in the corporate environment with disdain, something to be discouraged!
The first article that I liked – Stop The Innovation Wars, talked about how you need to plan the innovation implemention; how you need buy-in from the employees; how innovation teams should be a mix of old and new and such pertinent points. My mind went back to one of my experiences, when I was among those charged with the implementation of an innovative strategy.  This bombed, company-wide – just as the paper implied, in an almost textbook fashion. It did so as the Performance Engine {The team that gives the company numbers and share} was the one responsible for implementation. This team sabotaged the strategy as they were more fixated on current performance and methods.
And Is It Real –Can We Win? Carries the learning forward; I actually did recreate the entire model for this above example, drew the charts, and saw the errors that management made. The goal was lofty, needed; but the underlying assumptions were inaccurate. When I drew the charts, they foretold a failure chance of over 75%… and that is again nearly precisely what happened… Of 14 markets in my area, we got success in 3… a ratio of success of 30% – exactly as the model plotted.
I achieved my numbers; in fact exceeded the quotas comfortably; I was in charge of both the performance and the innovation aspects; there was no dedicated team; targets were the same; support was lacking. And, just as theory foretold, the innovation failed. Yes – we did hit the numbers; but that was a short-term play. The industry reality had moved ahead, and we weren’t in sync. This lead to serious issues later; the entire company was in fire-fighting mode. With a more focused and planned approach, we probably could have done it… but, again as another paper in this book points out, that required major implementation changes and support from the very top of the organization. Innovation cannot succeed unless it has support from the very top!
That is the most powerful part of this book : if you are reading with focus and attention, your take-aways will be many, diverse and pertinent. These are concepts you can apply  in your job, your function; you can enhance your skill sets; you can gainer deeper insight. I also gained insights into an innovation I implemented that succeeded – what was different in the two cases? Exactly those points the model and my experience above highlighted. Support from the top; focus on innovation; de-linking innovation team and performance team; mix of innovative and performance people; different targets… The second example on analysis gave me deeper insights on how to go forward… all in all, this is one of the most useful books you are likely to ever read!

2 comments on “Book Review : HBR Top 10 Must Reads – On Innovation

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