Sunday, July 25, 2010

Three books, open innovation, and Maslow's hammer

On a recent hot, quiet and remote vacation, I read three books and when I had finished them I found myself pondering the implicit (or explicit) connections between the core theme of each book to open innovation. The three books were:
I'm not going to attempt to summarise these very interesting books other than to highlight what I think might be some of the open innovation angle that can be taken from each one (but I am still working on this ..).

Matt Ridley's core message is about the power of the exchange and reproduction of ideas, the trade in goods and services, and innovation as a 'collective phenomenon'. As such the book (to me) seems to push the role of collaboration innovation to the fore and, in fact, raise it to high prominence as an essential component in underpinning our ability to maintain growth across the globe in the face of major social, economic and environmental challenges.

Carlota Perez presents an excellent, structured summary of the patterns that can be observed in technological revolutions. She splits analysis of past revolutions into two broad phases of installation and deployment, and each of these is in turn split into irruption and frenzy, and synergy and maturity. She stresses the difference between financial and production capital in supporting the widespread adoption of the technology. A key message of this book, from an open innovation perspective, is the recognition that technologies are extremely unlikely to be brought to market by firms acting in isolation and that the development of the whole ecosystem - or 'techno-economic paradigm' - is required to support successful diffusion of novel technologies. And this is not a feature only of modern technologies, but something that can be observed in the analysis past technological revolutions such as canals, steel making, railways, automobiles, and many others.

Finally, Brian Arthur's delivers 'an -ology of technology'. He discusses technology in terms of links to natural phenomena, the combining of and building upon existing technologies, and how technologies deepen and develop over time. He also presents an interesting discussion of the links between the evolution of the economy and technologies, and the way in which an economy can be considered as an expression of its technologies. From an open innovation perspective, this book provokes numerous interesting areas for further discussion. Among these, the links between modern technologies, management change and collaboration are interesting. E.g. "[..] the nature of modern technology is bringing a new set of shifts: In the management of businesses, from optimizing production processes to creating new combinations - new products, new functionalities. From rationality to sense-making; from commodity-based companies to skill-based companies; from the purchase of components to the formation of alliances; [..]. Order, closedness, and equilibrium as ways of organizing explanations are giving way to open-endedness, indeterminancy, and the emergence of perpetual novelty" (p210-211).

However, in reading all three of these books and looking for the open innovation links as I have attempted above, I'm not sure whether I have fallen into the trap identified by Abraham Maslow when he stated: "It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail". So, if anyone else has read these books and has an interest in open innovation, your comments would be welcome.