Review: The Road to Innovation

6 Star Top 10%, Change & Innovation, Culture, Research
Amazon Page
Amazon Page

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 Stars — The First Book to Connect All the Dots, June 29, 2014

I have decided to rate this book at “beyond five stars” for two reasons: first, because of all the books I have read on innovation, transformation, change management, and so on, this is the first one that I have found to be all inclusive — this is a capstone book, a stand-alone gem; and second, because this is the book I wanted to write in 1994 and could not. I have been waiting for a book such as this, not only for myself, but as a gift to top leaders who realize their organizations are broken and need a “booster shot” to get going on house cleaning followed by radical innovation.

First, by way of context, here are a few books on innovation I have reviewed previously, to make the point that this book exceeds them all (I do not list the lesser books):

Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs
Managing Nano-Bio-Info-Cogno Innovations: Converging Technologies in Society
Need, Speed, and Greed: How the New Rules of Innovation Can Transform Businesses, Propel Nations to Greatness, and Tame the World’s Most Wicked Problems
Rethink: A Business Manifesto for Cutting Costs and Boosting Innovation
The New Age of Innovation: Driving Cocreated Value Through Global Networks
Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature
Innovation Happens Elsewhere: Open Source as Business Strategy
Seeing What’s Next: Using Theories of Innovation to Predict Industry Change
Get Back in the Box: How Being Great at What You Do Is Great for Business
Innovation and Entrepreneurship

There are many other good books in this arena, including those by Clayton Christensen, a standard-setter.

My copy of the book is heavily annotated in relation to the US secret intelligence community that I have been trying to reform for 25 years — now I realize I should have been creating disruptive competition, something Alvin Toffler understood when he wrote the chapter on “The Future of the Spy” and called me the rival store. I was slow to break away from loyalty to the system I understood.

Early on the focus is on the need for a mind-set shift that embraces openness with lets go of the past, demonstrates courage, welcomes risk and failure, have a sense of urgency, operate from the bottom up, be idea centric, agile, and constantly generate new ideas…everything a typical rule-based bureaucracy or corporation refuses to entertain.

QUOTE (22): It turns out that playing it safe has become recklessly dangerous.

Early on the book celebrates contrarains (who in the secret world are marginalized if not fired) and suggests that making a list of all the existing rules and common practices, and then imagining their 180 degree opposites, is a fine way to start brainstorming a break-out.

“See with the Customer’s Eye” is a vital tool, and I have an annotation, “meet the needs of the 80% not receiving intelligence today!” (See my CounterPunch article, “Intelligence for the President — AND Everyone Else.” A list of 20 questions about customers I find most helpful, among the questions are “What infuriates your customers today” and “What is one thing your customer wants, but can’t get, from any business in your industry?”

Sections on raid your existing assets and find the 10X factor inspire me to contemplate radical reductions in technical collection that is not processing; the reinvention of human intelligence to focus on overt contacts that are not traitors, and the liberation of open sources from the prison cell where they are kept now. Any innovation should strive to deliver at least ten times more value — ten times more return on investment — than what it is to displace.

Unlike other books, this one places due emphasis on identifying and clearing away the “cannonballs,” which is to say the “old guard” that is undermining the leadership at every turn, protecting the status quo ante. Find and remove deadweight is priority one. It’s not enough to launch a lifeboat if the cannonballs are all focused on sinking that lifeboat. The list of common traits of executives that better companies fire reads like a list of imperial privileges at the senior executive level in the US Government.

There are ample examples of innovation, one of the more memorable was a hospital that hired a hotel man as CEO instead of a doctor, and focused on the intersection of health and hospitality. As I contemplate 40 years of dealing with the secret world, most of what I remember is unpleasant: naysayers, gaps, security obstacles, not invented here, cannot talk to foreigners, etcetera. I ask myself, what if we stopped all production and no one noticed?

Various lists are sprinkled throughout the book, including one on reinventing communications including an end to long briefings and a demand for more rapid-fire give and take that is inclusive.

The middle half of the book is about culture and trust.

QUOTE (133): Changing the rules of engagement is never easy. Many people in your organization have a vested interest in preserving the past.” Must and Must Not lists are found here. The six rules of creative cultures are:

01 Fuel Passion
02 Hunt and Kill Assumptions
03 Never Stand Still
04 Embrace Oddball Ideas [to which I would add, “and Oddballs.”]
05 Stick It to the Man [be irreverent]
06 Fight to Win [not just for budget share — try to make a difference, not just tread water]

Critical to innovation in any large organization is acceptance of the death of “one size fits all.” Here I would start with the Human Relations (HR) folks, people who in my experience have become lazy and counter-productive. Most of the “standards” that HR has developed to define “hireable” people are retarded — archaic — and a major part of why the wrong people keep getting hired.

Connecting with real customers is emphasized toward the end of the book. In the secret world most analysts are not allowed to talk to customers, nor are they allowed to talk to sources. They are especially not allowed to talk to foreigners with contrarian views — and we wonder why we get it wrong so often.

The book draws to a close with a more personal checklist that includes a small section on assessing your impact:

01 Do you liberate or restrict?
02 Do you enact solutions or complain about problems?
03 Do you energize or drain?
04 Do you elevate others or set them back?

I have a note on the IC standard leadership tactic, “kiss up, kick down.” Not cool at all. I do agree with those who describe the secret world and defense acquisition as the last vestige of the Soviet gulag and central planning model. Did not work for them, does not work for us.

Finally, the book focuses on making a list of things you should stop doing. A long list.

I found the notes and the index above the norm for a book of this kind, and like the book so much I am giving it to a senior leader who may in turn give it to a flag officer we think shows great promise. I anticipate some will not agree with my six stars, but I am doing that for a reason — that puts this book into my top ten percent of all books I have reviewed at Amazon, and I hope it marks the book as one worthy of a close reflective read. If you are ready to do some soul-searching and get off the gerbil wheel, this is a really fine book for your first step.

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