Saturday, July 1, 2017

Book Review: '!nnovation: How Innovators Think, Act and Change Our World' by Kim Chandler McDonald

By Kim Chandler McDonald

Review by Robert Morris

Valuable perspectives on and from within the emerging and evolving Global Digital Economy (GDE)

This is the latest of several dozen books on innovation that I have read thus far and is among the most informative because Kim Chandler McDonald draws upon more than one hundred of her interviews of international thought leaders and influencers who share their thoughts about “how innovators think, act, and change our world.” What excited me initially, when I reviewed the list of major contributors, is that I recognized very few of them. However different they may be in most respects, they seem to agree with what McDonald characterizes as the three “core axioms” of the book: innovation drives change, innovation (directly or indirectly) touches each of us, and innovators deserve recognition, celebration, and applause. “This book is my hands clapping. I hope, by the end of our time together, you join me in my ovation.”

I commend McDonald on her skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include a “word cloud” of key words with rich and diverse associations such as “differentiate” and “infrastructure.” These clusters are “commonalities, the themes, if you will, that link and lead” innovative thinking. In fact, McDonald characterizes them as “the warp and weft, the contexts and concepts, the melodies and harmonies of this symphony of extraordinary, and extraordinarily innovative, individuals.” Also, following each interview, she includes a simple “Keyword imagination exercise.” She asks the reader to close eyes for five minutes and await development of thoughts and ideas triggered, ” inspired” by the key words. McDonald provides a remarkably thoughtful introduction to each of the sections within which the material is carefully organized. I also appreciate the “Innovators speak” insertions. They are mini-commentaries that supplement interview excerpts that, together, help to define and delineate what McDonald characterizes as “aspects of success and awareness of both the pitfalls and potentials inherent in this time of great opportunity.”

With all due respect to the contributions by McDonald and her colleagues, the greatest value of the material — for me, at least — was derived from the interaction, stimulation, and correlation that it activated as I worked my way through it. As is also true of only a few others books, Alan Watts’s The Book, for example, this one read me to a greater extent than I read it.

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which several merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now offer a representative selection of five brief excerpts from this book:

o Julian Keith Loren on the competitive advantages of “massive, monolithic companies”: “That depends. If you are a multi-million dollar company and you say, ‘We’re going to open up our innovation practice. We’re going to create an open innovation network and we’re looking for partners’, you’ll have a lot of small companies scrambling to be in that network. There are still competitive advantages related to scale, market penetration, brand recognition, etc. If you’re starting your no-name company, how do you attract a large and vibrant eco0system?” Page 15

o Richard Boly on constraints: “Innovators embrace constraints. So if you are a start-up company in Silicon Valley, your constraints are: the amount of money you’ve been able to raise; the quality of the talent that you’ve been able to put together; and your ability to hit the marketplace ahead of your competitors with a solution. In that environment you may wish that you had more money, had another coder, and/or had more time to get to the window. You have to embrace the constraints that you face or you’re really on a fool’s errand.” Page 48

o Peter Cochrane on collaborating with a spouse: “No matter how bright you are, no matter how good you are in your given field, without someone to balance ideas out you can get yourself in a mental cul-de-sac. A man and a wife can say things to each other and be honest in ways that you couldn’t be, necessarily, with an employee — although I have worked with some pretty remarkable women in my life. Jane knows what I’m thinking before I think it, you know — wives do. So she makes contributions that no one else could.” Page 63

o Jeff Leitner on hanging out with entrepreneurs: “It occurred to me recently why I hang out with entrepreneurs, especially technology entrepreneurs. It’s because, when you’re doing something audacious, something that nobody quite understands, it’s nice to have other people say ‘come sit with us’. Entrepreneurs, particularly technology entrepreneurs, were the folks who first said it to me. They didn’t understand what I was doing but it seemed audacious and absurd, and what they were trying to do was audacious and absurd.” Page 93

o Lizbeth Goodman on education reform: “It needs different buildings with windows that are lower so that little children and people in wheelchairs can see out. It needs wireless…it just needs everything to change: the assessment system, the curriculum, the attitudes, the assumption that you need to break everybody’s thinking down to 20- or 40-minute time blocks. All these things that were important, for reasons of organizational simplicity, are now blocking the development of the human race.” Page 142

At the beginning of this book, McDonald asserts that innovators deserve recognition, celebration, and applause: “This book is my hands clapping. I hope, by the end of our time together, you join me in my ovation.” I am not only clapping, I am standing while doing so. A heart “Bravo!” and, yes, “Thank you!” to Kim Chandler McDonald and all the other innovators who contributed to the book as well as to countless others who have also helped to nourish my personal growth and professional development.

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Robert Morris. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right. 

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