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Review of Grow from Within by Wolcott and Lippitz

May 4, 2010

I had the pleasure of meeting Robert Wolcott on a recent flight, and based on our conversation, I decided to pick up his latest book on innovation, Grow from Within (co-authored with Michael Lippitz).

Robert is a professor at the Kellogg School of Management and a founder of the Kellogg Innovation Network, which brings together Kellogg faculty with business leaders to articulate and solve key business challenges around innovation. He’s also a partner at Clareo Partners, a boutique consulting firm that helps large organizations develop innovation and entrepreneurship as strategic, enterprise capabilities.

The book is aimed primarily at the corporate entrepreneur, i.e., folks tasked with finding, nurturing, and operationalizing new businesses from within established organizations. However, there’s a lot of great food for thought here, whether you’re personally involved with corporate entrepreneurship efforts or simply interested in innovation generally. But there were a few things I found especially interesting that I want to call out here.

#1. Successful innovation has less to do with great ideas than with great execution

For Wolcott and Lippitz, having a great idea is not enough to ensure successful (i.e., monetized) innovation.  They provide a wealth of examples of companies that discovered groundbreaking products or services but failed to consider how delivering these new products or services would require fundamental changes to how they do business (see my post last week on business system design for a great example from the book). Success came only when they—or their competitors—retooled their business systems to match the innovations they were bringing to market.

#2. Business system design can be plotted against 12 dimensions

Wolcott and Lippitz provide a compelling framework for undertaking business system redesign in response to innovation: the Innovation Radar.

Robert and I discussed this at length on our flight (this figure is his drawing of the framework), and it seemed like a fantastic way to parse out business operations. It was the main reason I bought the book, and I wasn’t disappointed by the full treatment presented there.

The X and Y axes present the four core “points” of the radar:

  1. Offerings – WHAT are you selling?
  2. Customers – WHO are you selling it to?
  3. Processes – HOW will you create, sell, deliver, and service it?
  4. Presence – WHERE will you engage your customers to do business?

These four categories are the building blocks of business system design, but there are eight subcategories that nuance the model:

  1. Platform
  2. Solutions
  3. Customer experience
  4. Value capture
  5. Organization
  6. Supply chain
  7. Networking
  8. Brand

Each of these fall between the two core points of the radar that they impact. So, for example, Value capture and Customer experience fall between Processes and Customers to indicate that (1) how an organization gets paid and (2) how it shapes the experience of its customers has to do with the intersection of how it does work and who it sells to.

This is a rich model with many applications, so I encourage folks to check out the full description in the book (pp. 59 – 69) as well as the business system redesign activity on 76 – 78 for a deeper dive into the Innovation Radar.

#3. Successful innovation comes in many flavors

Wolcott and Lippitz have spent a lot of time inside of a variety of organizations studying and enabling innovation, and the book is replete with great examples and case studies drawn from their experience.

What emerges clearly from their work is that there is no “one size fits all” approach to successful innovation, but rather a range of options within which most successful corporate entrepreneurship efforts fall. What works at Google wouldn’t work at Abbot or BP, and some organizations, like IBM, support multiple models of innovation at the same time.

They present a model of the four types of corporate entrepreneurship (pp. 94 – 133) which provides useful “big buckets” for making sense of the different approaches to innovation they present:

  1. Opportunist – no deliberate approach to corporate entrepreneurship (e.g., Zimmer)
  2. Enabler – company provides funding and senior executive attention to prospective projects (e.g., Google)
  3. Producer – company establishes and supports a full-service group with a mandate for corporate entrepreneurship (e.g., Cargill)
  4. Advocate – company strongly evangelizes for corporate entrepreneurship, but business units provide primary funding (e.g., DuPont)

They spend a lot of time explaining and illustrating these four types, and for folks in the trenches of corporate entrepreneurship efforts, this model will be one of the most valuable take aways from the book.

The final word

Overall, this is a solid book on innovation that will be of interest both to folks involved in corporate entrepreneurship as well as those interested in innovation generally. I’d love to hear from others who have read it or who have thoughts on innovation—excited to continue the conversation around this topic.

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