I’m now in the process reading the book, “A Passion […]

I’m now in the process reading the book, “A Passion for Ideas” by Heinrich v.Pierer and Bolko v.Oetinger. It contains a series of chapter-length essays and one-on-one interviews with innovators from all walks of life. Several of the themes covered in this book have helped me to think more broadly about innovation and its role in business and society. Here are two examples:

One German author outlined the great extent to which a country’s culture and its government’s support of innovation (or lack thereof) influences the climate for new ideas – a concept that I never really thought about until now. According to this author, Germany’s conservative work ethic has always prized working in a trade or profession for a large company for most of one’s life. In this culture, entrepreneurship has been viewed with a great deal of skepticism. In recent years, however, risk-taking entrepreneurs have started to appear in Germany, and attitudes toward them are starting to change. But they still have a long way to go: In America, if an entrepreneur starts up a company and subsequently fails, everyone naturally expects that he or she will start up another company. In Germany, however, if an entrepreneur’s start-up company fails, that’s a sign of failure. Most businesspeople, faced with the shutdown of a venture-funded new business, will return to more traditional forms of employment – in large companies or government agencies.

A Passion for Ideas also contains a chapter by John Kao, author of the book “Jamming” — one of my favorite creativity books! In this well-written essay, Kao discusses the relationship between innovation and business strategy, and presents a view that I have held for a long time. Too many organizations think that strategic planning is taking this year’s plan and simply extrapolating it into the following year. While this model of strategic planning may have worked in times of little change, we are now living in times of rapid, discontinuous change. In this environment, the extrapolation model of strategic planning can be harmful, if not fatal. I’ve always said that this dysfunctional process is something like driving your car by looking in the rearview mirror.

Kao says that a new model for strategic planning ought to focus on gathering fresh perspectives or points of view on your customers, markets and the businesses you serve. He points out that your perceptions effectively circumscribe your strategic planning process. In other words, if you don’t attempt to widen your perspective to take in new information and insights, little or no innovation will take place. From a strategic standpoint, you’ll be maintaining the status quo.