Book Review: The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See That Others Miss

    By: Teresa Kowal on Feb 19, 2015

    By Ron Adner

    Portfolio/Penguin Press, 2013.  267 + x pages.  US$17.00 (paperback)

    Review by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, NPDP

    the wide lens-2.jpgEven with a systematic approach to innovation, including customer focus and advanced technologies, new products can fail when commercialized.  Ron Adner’s book, The Wide Lens, describes a broad view of innovation addressing the entire “ecosystem”.

    In the Introduction and Part I (Chapters 1 through 3), Adner provides case study examples of failed innovations.  While HDTV, run-flat tires, and 3G telephone technology all held early promise, each innovation failed to initially recognize the whole pathway to success.  These risks to innovation success are identified as:

    • Co-innovation,
    • Execution focus, and
    • Adoption chain.

    Adner discusses these uncertainties in the ecosystem of innovation as a lack of understanding of all customers in the value chain or required partners to deliver a new product to an end-user.  Ultimately, elements of each failed innovation came to market as a consistent product, yet the lead developing company paid a high price for the original effort.

    Part II of The Wide Lens (Chapters 4 through 6) introduces tools that a new product development (NPD) practitioner can apply to improve success rates.  The author suggests “mapping the ecosystem” to fully imagine all of the entities and partnerships necessary to take a product from manufacturing to the end-user.  A simple traffic light assessment (red, yellow, green) can help the NPD team understand weaknesses in their innovation ecosystem.

    Case study examples of successful ecosystem maps include the Amazon Kindle e-reader and electronic health records (EHR).  Amazon recognized the importance of publisher buy-in to make their e-reader product successful and thus strengthening a weaker partner in the value chain.  EHR lobbyists gained government support, legislating product adoption across the United States.

    Finally, Part II of The Wide Lens examines how a company can extrapolate wins in one area of innovation to continue to build business growth and other functions.  Chapter 7 investigates a current case study, imagining how electric cars need to overcome innovation ecosystem challenges to become successfully adopted.

    Chapters 8 and 9 discuss platform extensions to continue repetitive innovation in related product arenas.  Adner uses Apple as a case study example demonstrating continuous innovation success via product extensions (e.g. iPod to iPhone to iPad). 

    The Wide Lens is an engaging book and Adner’s inclusion of case studies (both failures and successes) provides a framework to interpret his innovation model.  A take-home message from The Wide Lens is to ensure NPD practitioners examine all aspects of and all entities necessary to get a new product to market.  A breakdown in any link of the value chain can spell disaster for the particular innovation and the firm at large.  Companies should take educated steps to avoid such issues, thus utilizing the ecosystem map of Adner’s design.

    The Wide Lens was featured in The Innovator’s Book Club and is a great read for anyone seeking to take their innovation program to the next level.

    Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, NPDP

    Global NP Solutions, LLC

    Released: February 19, 2015, 9:10 am
    Keywords: PDMA Blog | Book Review


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