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The Power of Little Ideas: A Low-Risk, High-Reward Approach to Innovation Hardcover – May 2, 2017
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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About the Author
David Robertson is a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. From 2002 through 2010, he was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland. Robertson is the host of Innovation Navigation, a weekly radio show and podcast that focuses on the management of innovation. Robertson is the author of Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry and coauthor of Enterprise Architecture as Strategy.
Kent Lineback has spent more than twenty-five years as a manager and executive and, before that, several years as a consultant and a creator of management development programs. He has collaborated on several books, including Being the Boss.
Author social media/website info: robertsoninnovation.com; twitter.com/davidcrob; youtube.com/user/RobertsonInnovation; linkedin.com/in/davidchrobertson
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As Robertson explains in his latest book, The Power of Little Ideas, written with Kent Lineback, “The purpose of this book is to show you, the reader, how you can learn and adopt the approach that LEGO and others have used so successfully, without the crisis that precipitated LEGO’s turnaround. The other companies that have adopted the LEGO strategy followed a sequence of decisions, a process that is the focus of this book. This book lays out the steps you should follow and the challenges you’ll face if you decide to adopt this approach.” (Page xiii)
Robertson recommends what he characterizes as the “Third Way” to innovate – an approach that is not bound by the binary thinking that says innovators have only two choices: “innovate small [incrementally] or innovate big [disruptively]. There is another option.” This approach has three distinctive characteristics:
1. Companies pursuing the Third Way “create multiple complementary innovations around a core product that make that product more appealing and competitive.”
2. The next is that “the complementary innovations operate together and with the key product as a system to carry out a single strategy or purpose – what we call the [begin italics] promise [end italics] to the user.”
3. The third distinctive characteristic is that “the complementary innovations – even those delivered by outside partners –are closely and centrally managed internally. Though this may seem like a small point, it’s crucial for Third Way success.”
He rigorously examines several companies whose leaders took the Third Way approach, notably Apple Computer, CarMax, Disney, Gatorade, Novo Nordisk, USAA, and Victoria’s Secret. Each of their “stories” serves as a mini-case study.
Robertson poses four critically important questions that must be answered correctly when considering adoption of the Third Way approach. Here they are:
1. What is our key product?
2. What is our business promise?
3. How will we innovate?
4. How will we deliver our innovations?
In this context, I presume to insert an observation that one of the co-founders of The Home Depot, Bernie Marcus, is reported to have shared during the company’s first meeting of store managers. “Remember, when someone comes through the door, they’re not buying a 1/16th of an inch drill bit; they’re buying a 1/16th of an inch [begin italics] hole [end italics]. It is imperative to understand what the customer wants/needs and then innovate around that.
In my opinion, some of the material in the book’s final chapter is of greatest interest and value as David Robertson and Kent Lineback suggest a number of lessons that can be learned from an American icon, The Walt Disney Company. What we have is a mini-case study of how successful application of the Third Way “can lead to internal dysfunction, separation of the different types of innovation, and ultimately – in Disney’s case – an erosion of capability to the core.”
This really is quite a story of how a once-great company lost its way and then recaptured its “magic” and became an even greater success. Without calling it that, Walt Disney envisioned a “third Way organization with films, especially animated films, as its creative center where they provided the stories and characters that nourished everything else.”
As this story illustrates, “The success of the Third Way project depends on maintaining a strong and vibrant core, even if the core doesn’t generate the most revenue. When Disney nurtured its core by producing a stream of animated feature films, its core and complementary businesses all thrived. When it neglected the core, when it tried to live on the legacy of past success, both its core and complementary businesses suffered.”
The details are best revealed within the chapter’s narrative, in context, but I will reveal one lesson that would not be a spoiler: A company’s success begins with and depends on the right key product at the core of operations. For Disney, that would be “the stories and characters that continue to nourish everything else.”
The book provides an approach to innovation with the objective of maintaining a competitive product in the market that remains relevant, fresh and attractive to the consumer. But also this strategy can be applied to develop new successful products, or introduce existing products into new markets.
This type of innovation is called the Third Way, first it seeks to innovate around the core product to complement it and not to change it substantially, second it focuses on making it attractive for a segment of key customers, and third it poses little strategic risk, therefore little investment and also if it fails does not seriously affect.
In some cases the authors also mention the decrease in advertising on television, a percentage towards online to social media. The strategy is clearly explained, with detailed examples of very successful real cases. The third way is the way to keep the promise to customers of continuing to obtain value from the company's products, or rather the key product and continue to depend on and rely on it. In addition, the authors have created an attractive website with resources to expand the understanding and application of this strategy.
My gratitude to the Publisher and NetGalley for allowing me to review the book