By: Chuck Frey
Nicholas Webb’s new book, The Digital Innovation Playbook, makes a compelling case for the idea that innovators must engage in digital channels, listen actively to customer needs that are stated or implied, and then transform these insights into innovative new products and services that deliver exceptional value.
Nicholas Webb’s new book, The Digital Innovation Playbook, makes a compelling case for the idea that innovators must engage in digital channels, listen actively to customer needs that are stated or implied, and then transform these insights into innovative new products and services that deliver exceptional value. Doing so increases the odds that your company will be able to stand out from your average competitors, attract new customers and grow your business.
The Digital Innovation Playbook starts with an overview of the principles of digital innovation. This section of the book reads like the typical social media treatise – conversations are going on about your company. You need to listen and engage in them. If you’ve read any books about open innovation strategy, you already know this. But many senior-level executives don’t, which is why he needs to cover these topics as part of the foundation of digital innovation.
Webb goes one step further and suggests that organizations need a structured approach to leverage the insights from those conversations to drive future innovation.
In addition, they must deliver exceptional products and services in order to stand out in the customer’s mind. Only companies that have started to adopt a more open culture can hope to master the kind of fast, open two-way communication that social media requires today.
Webb then goes on to profile a number of “digital innovation superstars” who are leading the way in this Brave New World of always-on, always-connected digital communication, including Southwest Airlines, Kodak and the U.S. Army.
My only complaint is that Webb must cover so much ground in this book that he can’t treat some subjects with the depth they deserve. For example, at one point, he suggests that organizations develop a list of 21 questions that will help you to filter the torrent of incoming data. But he doesn’t provide any examples of what these questions should look like.
Most of the book is written in short sections, no more than 3-5 paragraphs in length. It jumps from one topic to another, at times without clearly tying everything together or making a cohesive picture out of the pieces of the puzzle he describes. At times, it feels very ADHD-like. That’s a minor complaint, considering the importance of the topic Webb is covering – the intersection of innovation and pervasive digital communications.
A bigger concern is that, early in the book, Webb declares that “open innovation is colossal failure.” But he doesn’t provide any evidence to back up that assertion. If it is strictly the author’s opinion, then it should be clearly stated as such. But Webb doesn’t say, “In my opinion, open innovation is a failure.” He just categorically states it, as if it’s a fact.
Webb does explain that “when you have an organization with a closed culture that is compartmentalized, it’s virtually impossible to deploy internal or external open innovation initiatives.” Fair enough.
But the fact is that companies like P&G (with its Connect + Develop program) and Lego (with its very successful Mindstorms product line) have had a lot of success with their open innovation strategies. Also, open innovation is still fairly young as strategies go. Changing a corporation’s culture to make it more open takes time. In my opinion, it’s too early to brand open innovation as a “colossal failure.”
Despite these shortcomings, I think that The Digital Innovation Playbook should be on your must-read list because of the importance of the trends that Webb sheds light upon. Clearly, digital channels will become a key source for customer insights, which can lead to future innovations for your firm. You need to at least be aware of the opportunities that digital innovation offers, and learn more about how some of its early adopters are successfully leveraging it.