Dodgson, Mark and David Gann. Innovation: A Very Short Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010. Pp. xiii+ 148. Paperback, $11.95.
The first example given of an innovator is Josiah Wedgwood. Core issues presented in the discussion are: new clays developed by refining experimentation, much attention to design—even organizing a coterie of well bred women amateur artists, innovation in manufacturing process—using steam power for mixing and grinding, quality control through rebuilding kilns and prowling the factory to weed out substandard items, new technology for measuring kiln temperature, long production runs, specialized labor, investment in worker training, transforming retailing, and working with government entities to improve ports for export and turnpikes and canals. The focus of the book is not so much on these issues themselves but on how an organization can innovate in corresponding areas. The last example is IBM, with its long history of re-inventing itself and its new efforts in health care and urban traffic management. In between is a full discussion of how Edison’s laboratory was managed—everything on site and Edison in charge—and of the invention of Kevlar at Dupont. Stephanie Kwolek, a research chemist, worked 18 years on polymer fibers before Kevlar was marketable. As the authors point out, contemporary managers probably would not be so patient.
As the subtitle states, this is “a very short introduction”—shorter than the number of pages might imply as the page size is smaller than used in most paperback books, although the font is small. Many topics are noted but few developed. Particularly striking to me was the absence of explicit prescriptions for how to innovate or how to build an innovative organization, although clues abound in the text—“accept risk and give space for the unusual and work with others that are differently minded.” For someone wanting a readable introduction to most of the important ideas about organizational innovation, this is a good choice. My overall conclusion is that the innovation process, while clearly important, is still a mystery.