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How Breakthroughs Happen: The Surprising Truth About How Companies Innovate Hardcover – June 5, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-1578519040 ISBN-10: 1578519047 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (June 5, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1578519047
  • ISBN-13: 978-1578519040
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 9.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #93,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A light bulb flashing over the head of a lone scientist is the universal symbol of invention, but Edison's electric light bulb, which was the product of a whole team of engineers working with ideas cribbed from other inventors, is the rule rather than the exception, argues this fascinating primer on business innovations. Every breakthrough-be it the steamship, the transistor or the rise of rock 'n' roll-is a collective effort that combines and tweaks already existing ideas and technology in novel ways. Drawing on systems theory, cognitive psychology and "microsociology," management professor Hargadon examines innovation as a phenomenon of networks connected by "technology brokers"-people or organizations that link isolated groups and industries to integrate previously unrelated viewpoints and technologies to resolve new problems. He applies this framework to business case studies ranging from Henry Ford's mass-production methods to the work of present-day industrial design firms. Companies can stimulate innovation, he suggests, by cultivating a diverse network of projects, clients and suppliers to "capture" new ideas and exploit the resulting innovations, as well as by constantly testing models and prototypes, encouraging informal collaboration among employees and fostering a culture that embraces open-mindedness, iconoclasm and the freedom to "fail your way to success." Hargadon's argument is a well-written and well-supported corrective to the "lone genius" myth of technological innovation. While not quite a blueprint for breakthroughs, his provocative viewpoint and intriguing case studies will give managers new techniques to ponder.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Intriguing, practical, and counterintuitive..." -- Innovationwatch.com, September 2003

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Customer Reviews

The author uses theories of sociology very effectively to further exploit this phenomenon.
B.Sudhakar Shenoy
This book teaches us that using the past as building blocks in creating the future has always been the most successful way to create new innovative products.
Fredrik Hallberg
Anyway, this book was a short paper that got blown up into a book, but they forgot to add anything except empty filler.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Rodney Lacey on August 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I have already been using Hargadon's research in MBA-level electives in innovation and technology management for its valuable insights to the managerial audience. Hargadon shows how innovation is intrinsically a social and cultural process (rather than the act of the isolated genius), and as a consequence, innovation is something that must be managed. The main advantage of Hargadon's work for a general managerial audience is it provides a theory of innovation that is adaptable to a wide-range of industries and technological settings, but at the same time eminently actionable with concrete recommendations and compelling, vivid examples that facilitate learning. Unlike most research on innovation that is narrowly focused on high-tech industries, Hargadon explores innovation as a general social process that is as important in areas as varied as mass manufacturing processes, specialty consumer products, and professional services. The book helps managers understand the importance of social structure and cultural context to the innovation process. In the process of explaining innovation, the book also introduces managers to complex theoretical issues around social structure and culture in a clear way that can be usefully applied by managers to arenas other than innovation. I will be assigning the book in my class this year as it compiles the previous research and adds new insights and cases in a handy and interesting package for the student.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By K. Sampanthar on January 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Summary:
This is book looks to answer the question, "Can Innovation really be routine?" This book not only answers that questions but actually gets into the details of "How". The title of the book is "How Breakthroughs Happen" and Hargadon definitely successfully explains the `How'. He doesn't proclaim that it is easy, but he does give a road map of how to achieve innovation through technology brokering, he even explains the different paths that apply to different types of companies. This book is ambitious since it is going to go in the face of popular belief that innovation is the sole province of geniuses. But it also isn't just another create an "innovative work space" through giving break/games rooms, adding free soda machines and providing all employees with Herman Miller chairs! This isn't a superficial answer to innovation; you can't just throw money at this and hope that innovation will just happen! But follow his rules and strategies you should be able to create an environment where recombinant ideas can flourish.
The central thesis of the book is that Innovation can be achieved through some best practices but first companies need to overcome the romantic preconception that innovation is the sole province of lone geniuses. Hargadon is a social scientist that has been researching innovation for the past decade. He explores the concept of technology brokering and creating Innovation factories a subject he first wrote about in a Harvard Business Review article - Building an Innovation Factory.
Hargadon's research explores in detail Edison's Menlo Park as an example of one of the first documented innovation brokerages. He also looks at modern day examples such as IDEO (a company he has worked at) and Design Continuum.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 8, 2004
Format: Hardcover
For many who read this book, it may well be a "surprising truth" that innovation succeeds "not by breaking free from constraints of the past but instead by harnessing the past in powerful new ways." I am among those who agree with the prophet Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun; also with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who asserted that everything changes...but nothing changes. I also agree with Hargadon's emphasis on the importance of an innovation strategy which seeks to take full advantage of what can be learned from the past inorder to create the future. His core concept is "technology brokering" which he introduces and then rigorously examines in Part I; next, in Part II, he describes the "networked perspective" of innovation, explaining how this strategy influences the innovative process within organizations, regardless of their size and nature; finally, in Part III, Hargadon provides specific and practical examples of how various organizations have designed and then implemented technology brokering strategies. Throughout the narrative, Hargadon explores in depth with rigor and eloquence his core premise: "that breakthrough innovation comes by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies."
In this context, I am reminded of what Carla O'Dell asserts in If We Only Knew What We Know when discussing what she calls "beds of knowledge" which are "hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined." She suggests all manner of effective strategies to "tap into "this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation -- all the while increasing profits and effectiveness.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bill Grissom on February 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an experienced engineer/researcher, I agree with Hargadon's basic thesis that great innovators in history have not been leagues above everyone else. More commonly they have simply had the proper education and are in a position to use analogies from other fields to solve a problem in a unique way. Indeed, I would go further and say they are usually merely competent, which does not mean average.

In my experience, the average researcher is usually ineffective. This is due to funding management systems which reward mediocrity, staying within bounds, and not taking risks. True innovators have usually taken personal and financial risks, which Hargadon does not emphasize. However, he emphasizes that once one has a successful invention, they should realize they will not stay unique long and must broker the technology to not wind up like Philo Farnsworth.

This is a new research area pioneered by Hargadon, so the book is not a finished compedium like a macroeconomics text, which can draw upon decades of research. The book is very readable and interesting. It draws upon a number of historical and recent examples. My only complaint is that he might overplay a few firms like IDEO, but later editions might add more examples.
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