The Wide World of Innovation
"In the final analysis, we really have no choice but to renew ourselves or slide into obscurity," write editors Bolko v. Oetinger and Heinrich v. Pierer in A Passion for Ideas, a fascinating anthology on innovation. "Art must seek new ways to explain the changing world or lose its meaning. Science must answer new questions or surrender its power. Companies must renew themselves or die. Innovation or extinction: There is no alternative to this hard choice."
The New in All its Facets
How is innovation created? What makes this vital barrier between life or extinction work? What are the keys to successful innovation?
As Oetinger and Pierer explain in their introduction, "We, [the] editors, recognize all too well not only the importance of newness and innovation - it is, after all, our daily bread and butter - but also the difficulty associated with it. With that awareness in mind, we had a simple idea: to understand the new by considering all its facets."
Both Oetinger and Pierer are from the world of business - Oetinger is a senior vice president at The Boston Consulting Group and Pierer is chairman of the board of German giant Siemens AG. However, for a comprehensive exploration of innovation - to understand the new in all its facets - the two editors recognized that they had to break out of the organizational and business arena. Otherwise, they risked simply regurgitating timeworn arguments, such as the need for more freedom and the power of self-generated crises.
"To understand the new in new terms, we decided to look in all fields of human endeavor for professionals who have encountered firsthand the new, the unfamiliar and the unusual," the authors write.
The twenty-five innovators they gathered for the book include poet John Barnie, Nobel-Prize winning physicist Gerd Bennig, Broadway producer and director Harold Prince, composer Wolfgang Rihm and technology consultant Christoph-Friedrich v. Braun.
Reflecting the comprehensive scope of the book, the business world is well-represented as well. Contributors include professor John Kao of Stanford University; Peter Senge, the developer of the learning organizations concept; Daniel Leemon, executive vice-president and chief strategy officer for The Charles Schwab Corporation; Claus Otto Scharmer of the MIT Sloan School of Management; and Ron Sommer, chairman of the board of Deutsche Telekom AG.
The Artistic Limb
Contributions from this diverse group of innovators are either in the form of a chapter written by the innovator or a verbatim interview. The result is an amazingly wide-ranging discussion of different topics and ideas tied together by the underlying threads of creativity and innovation.
In an interview, for example, Harold Prince talks about Broadway innovations such as computerized ticket sales, the TKTS booth which sells unsold tickets for that day, and the extensive advertising of Broadway shows - a particular distasteful trend, in his view.
"An innovation that I have no respect for is this insanely competitive paid-for advertising game that everyone indulges in," Prince explains. "The amount of money people spend on advertising today is so disproportionate to the money they spend on creating art, providing support to artists, it's obscene."
The Prince interview is in a section of the book called, "The Individual and The Environment" - one of two sections (the other is "Freedom and Organizations") dealing with what the editors call "the role of the social context surrounding innovators." How can one stay creative on Broadway, for example, when facing the enormous economic pressures of today's theater industry? For Prince, the key is to stick to your creative gut instincts - the "artistic idea" - but without going too far out on an "artistic limb." The same can be applied to new ideas in business.
Why Soundview Likes This Book
While the context in which innovation occurs will have a significant impact on innovation, the editors also found, not surprisingly, that innovation often depends on strong individuals. "Those who would admit the new must summon extraordinary courage," the editors write.
Originally published in German, A Passion for Ideaswill introduce readers to a number of individuals (many of them European) who have summoned this extraordinary courage. And as we listen to these individuals, readers will find in their examples important lessons on how to be creative, how to encourage innovation and how to move from concept to reality. Read this book for the pure pleasure of discovering these creative geniuses. But keep a notebook nearby in which to jot ideas and lessons. You'll need it.