01 Mar 2013
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Alumni News | Bookshelf

Re: Al Hirschfield (MBA 1959); Allan Cohen (MBA 1961); Neil Smith (MBA 1984); Frans Johansson (MBA 2000); Bruce Knecht (MBA 1986); A.G. Lafley (MBA 1977); Roger Martin (MBA 1981); Vic Navasky (OPM 25); Gregory Slayton (MBA 1990)
by Sean Silverthorne

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Assembly-Line Innovation

The title of the 2012 e-book Building a Growth Factory (Harvard Business Review Press) conjures an image of raw materials being dumped into a black box and emerging on conveyor belts as fully formed iPhones, Febreze dispensers, and Nest thermostats.

If only creating hit products were that easy. It's not, as is made abundantly clear by authors Scott Anthony (MBA 2001) and David Duncan, a Harvard PhD, both of management consultancy Innosight. Their point: Success over time requires continual innovation, which itself requires a system—a growth factory. The book explains how to develop sustainable processes for finding great ideas, driving them toward commercial success, and tracking their impact in the market and on the firm's resources.

Your factory needs four building blocks, the authors tell us: a growth blueprint, production systems, governance and controls, and leaders who set the right tone and secure resources. With examples gathered largely from Procter & Gamble and Citigroup, readers are escorted through each step, with valuable chapter-ending diagnostics and tips.

Especially insightful is Anthony and Duncan's explanation of production systems—the black box that transforms ideas into actual products and services. "Little bets labs," for example, allow companies large and small to rapidly build and test prototypes in the market using inexpensive web resources. "Find someone with a good eye for design on Elance.com to bring your vision to life. Use LinkedIn to network with an expert and ask her a question about a critical assumption. Run online surveys using SurveyMonkey.com. Tap into Amazon Mechanical Turk, which offers cost-effective ways to perform mundane tasks."

The book answers many conundrums faced by creative organizations. How large should initial innovation teams be? (Just a few people, but include seasoned members.) Should new projects be kept close to the core organization or set up shop on the periphery? (Depends if the innovation builds on core products or is completely new.) How are innovators motivated? (Nonmonetary works best.)

Of course, innovation is not born of process but by passionate people. How are they discovered? Building a Growth Factory recommends that successful innovators be identified by looking at behaviors. The best idea guys and gals, for example, demonstrate "innovation bipolarity, where an individual flips from being a passionate advocate of an idea to offering realistic viewpoints of the challenges in the way of success." Other behaviors to scout for include a bias toward creating data rather than getting it, a willingness to kill a flawed idea early, and a knack for securing the best resource to solve a problem. Highly accessible in a scant 100 pages, the ideas in Building a Growth Factory may not result in an assembly line of hit products, but they will make innovation "repeatable and reliable," allowing companies to escape the growth stalls afflicting their competitors. —SEAN SILVERTHORNE

 

Book Briefs

Living with American Indian Art:
The Hirschfield Collection

by Alan Hirschfield (MBA 1959) with Terry Winchell
(Gibbs Smith)
Hirschfield built what is said to be "among the greatest private collections of Plains and Plateau Indian art in the world," mainly with an art-based view focusing on pieces he found interesting and attractive. Representing many different tribes and regions, the collection includes textiles, leather pouches, war shirts, dresses, vests, cradleboards, beadwork, weaponry, pottery, toys, and basketry, most of which have never been published or exhibited.

Influencing Up

by Allan R. Cohen (MBA 1961, DBA 1967) and David L. Bradford
(Wiley)
Following their classic book, Influence without Authority, which provided a universal model for how to influence someone you don't control, the authors apply those ideas to problematic bosses and other powerful people, with sophisticated tactics for building partnerships with them. The book explains the dynamics of power and encourages managers to engage in difficult conversations, overcome their fear of no, let go of their problems with authority, and become willing to give something valuable to get cooperation from a powerful person.

How Excellent Companies Avoid Dumb Things:
Breaking the 8 Hidden Barriers That Plague Even the Best Businesses

by Neil Smith (MBA 1984) with Patricia O'Connell
(Palgrave Macmillan)
The author identifies eight hidden barriers that exist in many organizations and that prevent them from implementing ideas to improve the way they work: avoiding controversy, poor use of time, reluctance to change, organizational silos, management blockers, incorrect information and bad assumptions, size matters, and existing processes. Smith then outlines a proven process to break down those hidden barriers.

The Click Moment:
Seizing Opportunity in an Unpredictable World

by Frans Johansson (MBA 2000)
(Portfolio)
This book is about two simple ideas: Success is far more random than we think, and individuals and organizations can take advantage of this randomness. Johansson finds a common theme in the actions of successful people and organizations: When a "click moment" (a completely unexpected opportunity) occurs, they take advantage of the serendipity to change their fate. Johansson uses stories of successful people and companies (e.g., Diane von Furstenberg, Starbucks, Nike) to illustrate the concept.

Grand Ambition

by G. Bruce Knecht (MBA 1986)
(Simon & Schuster)
Knecht tells the story of the travails of Doug Von Allmen, an investor who commissioned a 187-foot, $40 million yacht, and of the artisans and blue-collar la- borers in southern Mississippi who built it. When the economic crisis strikes, desperate to reduce serious losses, Von Allmen falls for a Ponzi scheme. Knecht explores the intersection of the yacht's construction, the lives of the men who labor on it, and a wealthy man's dream.

Playing to Win:
How Strategy Really Works

by A.G. Lafley (MBA 1977) and Roger L. Martin (MBA 1981)
(Harvard Business Review Press)
The authors explain what strategy is for, why it's necessary, and how to get it done. And they use P&G's very successful turnaround (doubling its sales, quadrupling its profits, and increasing its market value by over $100 billion in 10 years), which they achieved together, to prove their point. They offer a set of five essential strategic choices that, addressed in an integrated way, will move firms ahead of their competitors.

The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power

by Victor S. Navasky (OPM 25, 1997)
(Knopf)
Incorporating neuroscience, psychology, and a historical view of the political cartoon's evolution, Navasky, the former longtime editor of the Nation, discusses what makes political cartoons so capable of enraging, provoking, and amusing viewers. He guides readers through some of the greatest political cartoons ever sketched, by George Grosz, David Levine, Herblock, Honoré Daumier, Thomas Nast, and Ralph Steadman, among others.

Be a Better Dad Today:
10 Tools Every Father Needs

by Gregory W. Slayton (MBA 1990)
(Regal)
This is a practical guidebook for every father who wants to become the best dad he can be. Slayton lays out simple, user-friendly techniques to help dads fulfill their responsibilities.

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