Book Review: Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire

by Vault Careers | December 22, 2010

  • My Vault

Ask anyone still hanging on to a job and they'll agree: the same old thing doesn't cut it anymore. With market demands rapidly changing, so too is the way we do business. Whether due to new breeds of competitor, new venues for competing or the economy's sluggish recovery, leaders can't expect to rest on their laurels. Persistent innovation is key.

These circumstances are fodder for Braden Kelley in the instructional Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire. "The problem for most organizations is that innovation is about change, and organizations and individuals tend to resist change," he states. With this concern in mind, the book presents myriad strategies of potential benefit to startups and established firms alike.

Despite its title, Bonfire isn't strictly a guide to developing new concepts. Rather, it addresses fundamental issues that can impede the pursuit of new initiatives. For new entrepreneurs, overcoming these perils can mean the difference between taking off and failure to launch; for aspiring intrapreneurs in mid-stream, it can mean staying afloat or sinking.

Innovate from the ground up

Divided into three sections, Bonfire begins by tackling the core concern of developing the vision, strategy and goals that are essential for a thriving organization. These are established by addressing the Where, Why, What, Who and How—specifically, "Where are we focusing our efforts," "Why are we pursuing them," "What will we do to innovate," "Who will participate," and "How will we execute this?" Given the obstacles companies and products encounter in development, defining these elements is crucial to facing uncertainties confidently.

With that out of the way, the organization can begin to develop. The second section plots this at length, pointing out hazards along the way. A lack of insight into the needs of customers, Kelley surmises, can stymie idea generation before it even begins. He cites the "Four Lenses of Innovation" as a solution, listing a quartet of ways to harness market insights: Challenging traditional concepts, harnessing unnoticed trends, leveraging one's assets in lieu of outright products, and empathizing with customers' own unarticulated needs.

Likewise, managers can encounter a lack of credible judgment or evaluation for proposals. To this, Bonfire presents an Idea Evaluation Checklist. Its criteria probe each aspect of the idea and its aims. What is the issue or problem it addresses? Is it an original and new concept, or an adaptation of an older one? How soon could it be put into operation? What are the potential risks to implementing it?

The final section tackles the trickiest pitfall: sustained innovation. From his surveys of professionals at multiple levels, Kelley cites structural inadequacy as a chief setback to continued progress. Such limitation results in poor communication, convoluted hierarchy and defeatist psychology in organizations.

To combat this, the book gives import to developing an inclusive, employee-centric corporate culture—much like that seen at Google. Managers, it suggests, should evaluate their leadership with questions like "What type of behavior do we reward," "Do people openly share information or hoard it," and "Is informal power greater than hierarchal power in our organization?"

Strategies to spare

That said, the book does offer a glut of innovation strategies throughout, which serve to illustrate its many case studies. Be they systematic processes or outlined concepts, Kelley applies these to each success or failure recounted from heavy hitters such as HP, Microsoft and, very often, Apple.

When assessing the perceived setbacks of Apple's iPad, Kelley cites the "Moonshot" model, which follows a concept from establishing its initial definition, through vetting and enhancement, to implementation and optimization. For Apple's tablet, the author prescribes a period of "Solution Education," wherein the product must improve upon its functions and drop its price point, if it is to find wider exposure.

But if you're looking for one overarching method or concept for strategized innovation, the book lacks any such unifying theme. With so many strategies being offered, and few of them explored further than a few paragraphs, readers may find difficulty pinning down what works best for them. That's where the book turns interactive: Users can go to the Innovation Bonfire site and find much more of these models and ideas laid out in detail.

At a lean 177 pages, Innovation Bonfire takes would-be innovators through a mountain of case studies and concepts that detail not just the cycles of development, but the lifespan of an organization. As a result, processing it all can prove taxing. But few readers will come away without finding at least a few solutions and practices to take them further in their efforts. Even if he doesn't start the bonfire, Kelley's book promises to keep it burning while the world keeps turning.

 

Braden Kelley's book, Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose, is now available for purchase in hardcover, published by Wiley. To read more from the author, visit his Blogging Innovation website.


-- Alex Tuttle, Vault.com

Read more:
7 Habits of Effective Intrapreneurs
Leadership and the Reality Distortion Field

Filed Under: Salary & Benefits

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