Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Reading :: The Innovation Acid Test

The Innovation Acid Test: Growth Through Design and Differentiation
By Andrew M. Jones

Drew Jones is one of the coauthors of I'm Outta Here!, a book on coworking. When he mentioned he had written another book, I asked him for the name so I could look it up. Not long after that, this book showed up in my inbox gratis. Thanks, Drew.

In any case, it's an interesting book. Like many such books, it discusses case studies from several companies (in this case: Southwest Airlines, Google, Whole Foods, SAS Institute, Starbucks, Innocent Drinks and Shanghai Tang) (p.12). But Jones goes on to examine innovation in those companies, arguing that the "emerging disciplines of innovation" include ethnography, architecture, and design (p.14). (Jones is an anthropologist by training.) These disciplines, centered around design, focus on building the unknown; they contrast with the dominant troika of mathematics, economics, and psychology, which focus on managing the known (p.20). And he argues that shifting from the old to the new paradigm will be crucial to attracting GenX and especially GenY employees (p.23). These new employees should be "T-shaped," that is, empathetic enough to reach across disciplines (p.24; search my blog for "boundary crossing" for some similar thoughts).

In the following chapters, Jones explores the three new disciplines with case studies, then concludes with thoughts about moving toward the new paradigm. The case studies are very business school-ish, relying mostly on C-level interviews and public company data; ironically, they're not ethnographic.

The book, I think, is valuable for thinking through what organizational innovation means. I really prefer ethnographic investigation to interview-based cases, but I see the value in these cases as well, and I certainly see value in thinking through the paradigm Jones outlines here. I expect I'll return to this book frequently as I continue to develop my own ideas about changes in work.

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