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September 23, 2008

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Scott Berkun

Hi James - Thanks for mentioning the book.

I took the risk of perpetuating myths quite seriously, and I don't think I did what you're suggesting here. Take this for example, from The Myths of Innovation, Chapter 3, pg. 44:

"Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and Pixar, was asked 'how do you systematize innovation?' His answer was, 'You don't'(1). This was not what the readers of Business Week expected to hear, but foolish questions often receive disappointing answers. It's as absurd question as asking how to control the weather or herd cards, because those approximate the lack of control and number of variables inherent in innovation. Jobs, or any CEO, might have a system for trying to manage innovation, or a strategy for managing the risks of new ideas, but that's a far cry from systematizing something. I wouldn't call anything with a 50% failure rate a system, would you? The Boeing 777 has jet engines engineered for a guaranteed 99.99% reliability - now that's a system and a methodology. It's true that innovation is riskier than engineering, but that doesn't mean we should use words like system, control, or process so casually.'

Our disagreement might simply be about the words system, method or methodology. The failure rates for P&G, Google, or any poster child of an "innovation system" are extraordinarily high. They throw away many projects and ideas to obtain the handful that ever become products, much less successful ones. I think this is a a misuse of the word "system" or "method". At best what these folks do is expensive, risky and unpredictable. They experiment. And while there is significant work, planning and skill involved to manage experiments well, to call it a method you'd have to have much higher success rates.

You said:

"Industry practice provides many very important examples of organizations that have successful implemented innovation programs—programs built on the assertion that innovation is a discipline that can be developed as a competency."

Of course. But how many other companies that tried to do exactly the same thing failed? What is the ratio of successful implementations of these "methods" to failed ones? It's very high.

It's no surprise at this point that I find your suggestion I'm propagating a myth entirely unfair and unwarranted. There's little in my book that supports the status quo in any respect, most of my claims are support by research or at least industry anecdote, and I'm baffled at how one chapter, regardless of how awful it might have been, tanks your judgment of the other 9 :)

Best wishes,

-Scott

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