This week I took the chance to read Sidestep and Twist, the new book on innovation by James Gardner.
James is General Manager at Spigit - the California-based crowd innovation company. I'm thrilled to be working alongside Spigit in delivering idea management and innovation programmes to the clients I work with around Europe and so was pretty keen to get into this book for the latest perspective on why innovation within organisations can be so tough.
This, his latest business book, is based on a pretty controversial premise. Counter-intuitively, he suggests that having the best idea, being the first to market, holding the biggest R&D budget or having world-class leadership provide no guarantees when it comes to delivering highly successful and innovative products and services. Instead, Gardner argues that, knowingly or not, the world's innovation success stories have been built on companies' ability to adopt 'Sidestep and Twist' strategies by taking products and services that are already successful across into new markets - the Sidestep - and by adding remarkable new features which ensure that the products get better and better the more they are used - the Twist.
Gardner steadily develops this idea, neatly illustrating the concepts of the Sidestep, the Twist and even the Double Twist with examples drawn from history (Alexander Graham Bell and John Ambrose Fleming) as well as from more recent times, including some great vignettes featuring Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Microsoft amongst others.
For me, the book comes into its own in the closing chapters, where Gardner draws on his own successes (and failures) in trying to make innovations stick in large organisations - here some of his observations ring very true!
How to make Innovations stick
The models he creates which describe Innovators at one end of the spectrum in an organisation and Laggards at the other, reinforce the need to invest in strong stakeholder management with all interested parties in order to be certain that even the most attractive 'no-brainer' ideas don't stall prematurely.
In any organisation, the group of Innovators only represents 2.5% of the whole... and these are the ONLY people who will try anything genuinely new. Along with Early Adoptors, this figure grows to 13.5% which is a more influential share of the market of potential users, but getting them on board needs the active support of the Innovators... and the problem is... how to find them.
Even if you do rally the Innovators and Early Adopters, there are still the Laggards to contend with, as well as the people in the middle. The Laggards represent an influential 16% of decision makers and are a lost cause in so much as they are "so completely risk averse that they'll always prefer what's working today, no matter how good the arguments for change". What's worse is that this group don't sit quietly when a major strategic change is proposed - they noisily and forcefully make their objections heard!
These managers aren't being malicious - in fact they are demonstrating the very attributes which make them ideal for running businesses that are doing well on the back of traditional, steady income streams.
The trick is building a larger noisier group which supports a Sidestep & Twist strategy than the group led by the Laggards in order to get the innovation proposition adopted... Why? because the "the loudest group of voices always seems to win".
Gardner's book is invaluable resource for anyone trying to lead innovation programmes in organisations large and small. Anyone puzzled as to why the most obvious 'no-brainer' ideas are not welcomed with open arms and introduced will find solace in Sidestep & Twist... along with a raft of new ideas, tools and techniques.