Closing the Innovation Gap Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2008

The New Age of Innovation by C.K. Prahalad and M.S. Krishnan

The Times of London named Prahalad “the world’s most influential management thinker” in 2007, and he applies all of his skills to his collaboration with technology expert Krishnan. The authors guide readers through creating innovative solutions that put the individual customer as the focal point. Process management, supply chain issues and technical systems are all discussed to help companies make a transition to forward-thinking strategies. Prahalad and Krishnan give readers the tools necessary to compete in the flattened global marketplace.

McGraw-Hill, 278 pages.

Outside Innovation by Patricia B. Seybold

In today’s marketplace, a company may dictate a product’s initial use, but customers frequently provide more innovative uses once the product is released. Tapping the enthusiasm of customers is at the heart of Seybold’s work. She helps readers merge their product innovation efforts and tie them directly to the eventual satisfaction of the customer’s needs. Seybold’s decades of experience in customer-focused business strategies are reflected in her precise, results-driven writing.

Collins, 412 pages.

The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley with Jonathan Littman

With stories from some of today’s most innovative companies, Kelley helps readers break away from the nay-saying that kills fresh thinking. New roles such as the anthropologist, the cross-pollinator and the experience architect are defined and combined to defeat the might of the popular devil’s advocate. The book serves as a revelation to leaders who are attempting to pull their teams out of a cycle of stagnation and negativity.

Currency/Doubleday, 273 pages.

Innovation renovation

How the bottom line has knocked profitable innovation from the core of many companies

Where have all the innovators gone? Fortunately, that’s a question that has not yet been raised about the supply of creative entrepreneurs in the United States. The U.S. is well known as a fertile breeding ground for brilliant ideas and masterful execution.

That reputation is now in peril, says Judy Estrin, author of “Closing the Innovation Gap.” The same nation that produced game-changing products and services in virtually every sector of the economy could go the way of the dinosaur if it doesn’t correct the forces that threaten its extinction.

Innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum, Estrin explains.

Much like our physical environment, which relies on a complex web of dependent relationships, innovation needs the right proportions of policy, funding, education, leadership and culture in order to sustain itself within what Estrin refers to as the “innovation ecosystem.”

When we were right

Enlightened national leadership made possible the prodigious technological advances of the mid-20th century by nurturing the core values of questioning, risk taking, openness, patience and trust, says Estrin. Positive payback came in the form of such successes as space research and NASA, powerful telephony think tanks like Bell Labs, and that legendary semiconductor incubator, Silicon Valley.

Where we went wrong

By the ’80s, economic pressures took hold, skewing these core values so that companies began to worship a new master, the bottom line. Long-term goals were the norm of research in the ’50s and ’60s, Estrin explains. Now short-term goals are the rule, and companies once run by scientists and technologists who understood their core business are being run by professional managers with little sense or respect for their companies’ products and services.

Today, our national research community is suffering from neglect, she says. Applied research that focuses on practical or useful applications has its place but not to the exclusion of what is known as basic research.

Why it matters to you

Raised by scientists who encouraged her love of science, Estrin has repeatedly made Fortune’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business. Using that background, she talks knowledgeably and intimately about the early days of Silicon Valley, since she lived there as a student at Stanford University, then became a member of the iconic Zilog Corp. and eventually co-founded three technology companies.

While Estrin states that she doesn’t want to be an alarmist, she provides enough evidence that should make even the most casual readers pause. With so much media attention focused on global warming, unstable financial markets and a war happening every day somewhere around the globe, the issues she examines are often relegated to the back pages of newspapers, if they are printed at all. Thanks to her exhaustive research skills, evident in the huge list of interviewees published at the end of her book, readers of “Closing the Innovation Gap” will grasp that Estrin’s observations are not just based on personal musings or scant anecdotal evidence. She has repeatedly gone to the mountain where some of the most brilliant innovators live, returning with a powerful warning that only the tone-deaf could choose to ignore. When the rubber meets the road, Estrin says, it’s all about creating conditions once again for sustainable innovation that we can proudly bequeath to the next generation.

Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy By Judy Estrin

McGraw Hill ©2008, 254 pages, $27.95 (ISBN: 978-0-07-149987-3)