Smart Books:<BR>The Global Brain Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2008

The Global Brain By Satish Nambisan and Mohanbir Sawhney Pearson Education, 2008, 276 pages, $29.99

Innovation has historically been confined within a company’s four walls, where researchers toiled in relative secrecy to develop the next big thing. In today’s environment of shorter product life cycles and accelerated competition, that formula is a prescription for disaster.

Satish Nambisan, a technology management and strategy professor at the Lally School of Management at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Mohanbir Sawhney, the McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology and director of the Center for Research in Technology and Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, have written an intriguing treatise that attempts to resuscitate the innovation imperative.

The Global Brain: Your Roadmap for Innovating Faster and Smarter in a Networked World makes a compelling case that creativity requires a diverse mix of talent and expertise applied in a collaborative and open environment.

“Tapping into the global brain is no longer a matter of choice,” they write. “It is more a question of how, rather than whether, a company should pursue a network-centric innovation strategy.”

Nambisan and Sawhney reveal how innovative organizations, such as Staples, IBM, and Apple, reach out to customers, suppliers, amateur inventors and researchers.

One example is the Human Genome Project (HGP), the international research initiative that aimed to identify and sequence some 25,000 genes that make up human DNA. The effort unleashed the creative power of networked communities and pooled resources to produce extraordinary results. Perhaps more important, the authors maintain, was “the sociological perspective of knowledge creation — that is, the notion of building on each other’s ideas through interactions — is fundamental to contemporary innovation contexts, which often involve highly complex and diverse sets of knowledge.”

They also take us behind the scenes at Staples, which holds an idea contest called InventionQuest, where individual inventors are invited to submit their ideas, and winning ideas are commercialized.

By illustrating an applicable structure, the authors provide an insightful road map on how to structure emerging network-centric innovation in terms of governance (to ensure common behavior patterns and coordinate information sharing), knowledge management (to facilitate the generation, codification and utilization of information) and intellectual property (to enable innovators to control the innovation and its derivatives). <<

Lessons learned
According to the authors, the search for innovative ideas and technologies has moved beyond the boundaries of any single company’s walls.

2. Cutting-edge organizations have recognized the innovative power of collaboration by reaching out to nontraditional sources, such as customers, suppliers and the general community in the quest to uncover new product and service ideas.

3. Network-centric innovation opportunities have resulted in major breakthroughs where conventional, proprietary, guarded research has stalled.

4. The next generation of innovation is being achieved by building on numerous sources’ ideas through continuous interaction while, at the same time, developing ways to control — and commercialize — the resulting intellectual property.

Capsule review provided by Soundview Executive Book Summaries.