RTM Journal takes on “Conquering Innovation Fatigue”

Posted by Cheryl Perkins on September 26, 2011

It’s been two years now since the release of the book, Conquering Innovation Fatigue: Overcoming the Barriers to Personal and Corporate Success, and we are still getting kudos and great reviews from those in the innovation industry who recognize both the malady and the solution. That’s why I’m excited to share a preview of an excellent review that will appear next week in the September/October issue of Research-Technology Management (RTM) Journal.The review was written by Bob Kumpf, chairman of Industrial Research Institute:

Conquering Innovation Fatigue: Overcoming the Barriers to Personal and Corporate Success

Jeffrey Lindsey, Cheryl A. Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar.  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2009

The authors of Conquering Innovation Fatigue immediately captured my sympathy with the observation that “Few things make creative people wearier than empty talk about innovation.” Although it is encouraging that the topic of “innovation” is increasingly seen as important, the downside is that many “experts” are simply recycling well-known concepts. Jeffrey Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are experienced practitioners who offer useful insights into the personal, organizational, and societal challenges an innovator must overcome.

The authors structure their discussion around nine different “fatigue factors” that they group broadly into three classes: people fatigue, organization-level fatigue, and external fatigue. People fatigue factors describe elements that lead to fatigue in individual innovators, including:

Theft of the invention and exploitation of inventors
Innovator deficiencies (e.g., unreasonable expectations, impatience, unhealthy pride).
The NIH syndrome (“Not Invented Here”)

Organization-level fatigue arises from the company’s strategy, culture, and actions, and includes:

4. Breaking the will to share (loss of cooperation from the innovation community)

5. Fundamental flaws in decision making and vision

6. Open innovation fatigue (corporate barriers to external innovation and collaboration)

External fatigue originates with factors external to the individual innovator and to the organization, including:

7. Patent pain: barriers to intellectual property protection.

8. Regulatory pain: challenges in policy, regulation, and law.

9. University-industry barriers.

The book offers some compelling examples of innovation from the prolific inventor with an unforgettable name—Philo T. Farnsworth. Although the story of Farnsworth and RCA is generally well known, the details are worth recalling. The authors build on the Farnsworth story to examine the issues around innovation fatigue in individuals.

The strongest parts of the book, however, are those chapters that examine innovation fatigue factors that are tied to organizations. These chapters—which also include examples from the touring company of The Lion King—offer the most important lesson in the book: “Employees can be paid to offer their time and energy to the corporation but in spite of what might be on a contract, they will only share their best ideas when they feel personally motivated to do so.” This fact is at the core of the challenge that many organizations face. It is expressed in phrases like “if only ____ knew what ____ knew” (fill in the blanks with your company or organization). These chapters are well worth reading and rereading.

The book continues its examination of organizational sources of innovation fatigue by addressing the conflicting commandments to “get close to your customer” and “seek white space.” Although many consultants urge corporations to get closer to core customers, the authors show that, if this isn’t done with caution and a healthy dose of skepticism, a company’s best customers can become a source of innovation fatigue. The field of consumer electronics is rife with examples, and the authors pull together a number of classic stories of success arising from vision, not customer insight, notably, the Apple iPad.

The third class of innovation fatigue factors, external factors, is largely a result of laws and regulations. Most readers would agree that, in classic Porter fashion, that these external factors must be considered in any innovation strategy. It is less clear that they are sources of innovation fatigue. Nonetheless, this section of the book provides a useful survey of innovation challenges ranging from weak intellectual property regimes to the challenges of working with diverse university policies.

The book also includes chapters on culture, metrics, and government policy. It closes with a section offering “Further Guidance” and a list of 15 specific recommendations on how individuals, corporations, and policy makers can cooperate to overcome innovation fatigue.

The organization of the book is at times puzzling; for reasons that are not obvious, chapter 2 detours through an alternative to the funnel model of innovation that, although it’s an interesting idea, doesn’t at all fit the narrative of the book. However, the book offers a compelling discussion of the factors that lead to innovation fatigue that merits attention, particularly the discussion of organizational factors. The book is further recommended as a “quick read” that lends itself to a cross-country or transoceanic plane ride. The reader will arrive at his or her destination with some fresh insights or supported convictions in the field of innovation management.

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