Perpetuating Innovation Myths

Working my way through this summer’s reading list, I enjoyed some great books and a few not so great.  One book in particular stands out as a major disappointment.  Scott Berkun’s  "the myths of innovation," is that book.  This book has received a lot of good commentary in the blogosphere.  So, you might ask why I found it so disappointing.

In all fairness, this book is a pleasant read.  It is well written, and Berkun’s style connects with the reader.  So, what’s wrong with it?

This book perpetuates the most destructive innovation of all.  In chapter 3, Berkun asserts that there is no method for innovation.  In this discussion of the way of innovation, the author reveals a fundamental failure to understand repeatable innovation methods.

The discussion presented jumps from the notion that many people have followed many paths to the ill founded conclusion that there are no maps to help the innovation practitioner to reliably find their way to high-value innovation.  While most organizations are stuck in the quagmire of accidental innovation, this does not establish dispositive proof that there is not a better way, nor does it mean today’s norm is the ideal for tomorrow.

Industry practice provides many very important examples of organizations that have successful implemented innovation programs—programs built on the assertion that innovation is a discipline that can be developed as a competency.  In another book on my summer reading list, "The Game-Changer: How You Can Drive Revenue and Profit Growth with Innovation" (A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan), the Proctor & Gamble program is described.  It is clear that P&G have pursued innovation with the intention of achieving demonstrable competence.  Their results give testimony to the success of their efforts.

There are many other cases which can be cited.  We are all aware of companies that have broken away from the accidental mode of innovation and which have instead pursued with alacrity the path of sustainable innovation practice.  However, for the company that is still hampered by poor innovation practices, it is too easy to feel that being part of the pack of accidental innovators is good enough.  Berkun’s book provides an easy refuge for those who want to justify their status quo.

No, I will not be recommending this book to anyone.  We need to shatter the myths that prop up the barriers to innovation.  All too often the no-innovation-methods myth is used to erect walls that prevent knowledge workers from fulfilling their innovation potential.  Equipped with knowledge of sustainable innovation best practices, these knowledge workers discover the walls around them are nothing more than a Potemkin village.

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