You probably know someone who thinks we're headed for another Great Depression, and you might know someone who thinks that's nave because we're already in one. Well, if you knew Scott D. Anthony, you'd soon realize that he is neither of these people. In his new book, he says we're in something called a Great Disruption, and although it may not feel so great, don't overlook its significant possibilities for growth: hence the title of his book, The Silver Lining.
Anthony describes a Great Disruption as, "Change ripping through markets at an unprecedented pace. Competitive advantage that took decades to build disappear[ing]overnight." The Silver Lining is essentially another book about how change is the only constant in business today. Those who master the forces of change will thrive; those who don't are doomed to struggle. Okay, we've heard this stuff before, so what makes Anthony's book worth reading?
Maybe the answer lies in the subtitle: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times. Anthony focuses on innovation as a performance indicator for companies. Uncertain times are exactly the moment for innovative solutions, yet they are also exactly when many companies circle the wagons and adopt a defensive posture. He shares the story of how the National Cash Register was formed in tough economic times to meet a specific customer need. He cites other highly successful companies that were formed in times of economic stress, such as 3M, GE, Microsoft, and Walt Disney. Customers need innovative solutions to recurrent problems and that theme remains constant though economic activity may rise and fall. An innovative company can find success if it is properly poised to remain innovative during tough times.
The most successful innovators are those that take advantage of disruption by bringing something completely different to the market. Instead of playing the innovation game better than others, they change the game. Whole companies reinvent themselves to take advantage of disruption. Most well-run companies today are already operationally lean, so now the only opportunity to grow the bottom line is through innovation.
Anthony offers two examples of how perpetual innovation leads to business success. The original name of Apple, the creator of the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone, was Apple Computer Inc. Nokia and its original product line was pulp paper and rubber boots.
Innovation, of course, is not simply a light bulb going on over your head or one chap's chocolate ending up in another's peanut butter after they collide. Innovation is a form of change management with an established strategy. Anthony discusses the elements of an innovation strategy - from how to evaluate an innovative idea, to how to share the burden of innovation with others and how to seek out other strata of your core business market for opportunities that you might have overlooked. This is a how-to book essentially, and it's really pretty good.
The concept of disruption as a seedbed for innovation is built on the 1990s academic work of Harvard's Clayton Christensen. One question coming out of this work has been how to prepare leaders to be effective innovators. If bottom-line business growth depends on innovation, then companies have to pay close attention to developing innovative traits in their leaders, right? Anthony spends some time on this issue in Chapter 8, "Drive Personal Reinvention." It's thought-provoking reading for anyone trying to help companies develop their key leadership talent for the future.
This is an easy book to read, and it gives one hope in the teeth of some very rough winds. For companies trying to manage or establish their innovation pipeline, it offers useful tips and an overall guide. For training and development folks, it offers further evidence that investment in human capital is critical for long-term business success.
I give it four cups of coffee.