James Gardner’s new book takes a look at innovation from another perspective – it’s not always about new ideas but how new ideas are made useful. In this book review René van der Hulst walks us through the three mechanisms Gardner has identified that accelerate acceptance of new products or services and increase competitive boundaries.

Intrigued by the fact that original breakthrough innovations often do not create the profits you would expect, but the investors in the application of the breakthrough innovations seemingly make a lot of money, James Gardner went out to investigate what makes the difference. In his latest book, Sidestep & Twist he shares the three mechanisms he has identified that accelerate acceptance of new products or services and increase competitive boundaries.

To start, Gardner defines the three mechanisms: the side step, the single twist and the double twist. A sidestep means taking an existing well understood capability and applying it in a new way (the side step), so it can be used by new/more users, thus creating new markets. A twist means that the product gets better the more it gets consumed. This leads to a spiral of improving product and increasing consumption.

In the case of a single twist, the product/service gets more desirable but the price/ performance curve does not change. In the case of the double twist, the same effect applies, but in addition the price/performance curve shifts, accelerating the adoption of the innovation.

Next, in “Getting Customers in”, Gardner describes how these mechanisms help accelerate adoption of innovations, correlated with an increasing performance/price ratio.

In “Keeping Competitors out”, Gardner describes how the sidestep and twist can be used to more rapidly build a critical mass of users, “the Race to recruit”, which increasingly shuts-out potential competitors.

And in the following chapters he describes in more detail how the mechanisms work and how their effect gets amplified when combined. Gardner provides many examples both historic and more recent, which make the book a very interesting read, definitely worth your time.

On the inside cover, Gardner is quoted as saying that “you don’t need to have the best talent to win, you don’t need to be superlative at execution to succeed”. On the back cover, Darren Armitage goes a little bit further by interpreting the message as “innovation is rarely about creativity and radical ideas”. For me those comments actually take away from the value and core messages of the book.

In my opinion, the articulation of the three concepts of sidestep, single twist and double twist is a very helpful addition to the vocabulary of innovation, capturing very important mechanisms that can make the difference between success and failure of product and service introductions. That does not mean you do not need creativity or radical ideas. It only means that they do not necessarily have to come in the form of technological breakthroughs. Success is often based on smart new combinations comprised of incremental improvements of the products and services and changes in business models, on sidesteps and twists. Identifying the combinations that work actually does require creativity and new insights, which is more likely to come from teamed talent rather than individual talent. In addition, to have a chance of winning the “race to recruit” and thus making these innovations successful does requires speedy execution. It is not an either-or; it is an and-and.

By René van der Hulst

About the Author

René van der Hulst is owner of in2lead and operates as consultant in advisory and executive roles related to innovation projects. He has more than 20 years experience in the telecommunication industry, and at Lucent Technologies led the team introducing data solutions for enterprise customers of large mobile operators.