Harvard Business Review Press, 2014. 242 pages. US$28.00.
Review by Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, Ph.D., NPDP
Unsurprisingly, Scott Anthony’s new book, “The First Mile,”is delightful. Anthony draws on innovation experiences and theory to present a new innovation process toolkit.
Part I of “The First Mile” defines the problem innovators face to get an idea off the ground. It take more than sexy technology and a working prototype to convert an idea into a commercial success. Getting the first sale means testing an idea for functionality as well as testing the transactional aspects of getting the product into customers’ hands.
Using the acronym DEFT, the author describes a new early stage innovation process (pg. 25). Details for each step are outlined in Chapters 2 through 5.
Document the idea (uncover hidden assumptions),
Evaluate the idea from multiple perspectives,
Focus on strategic variables (critical uncertainties), and
Test and adapt.
Many firms, especially large corporations, struggle with documenting ideas that are not fully formed and may not reach scalable commercialization. On the other hand, the author argues that documenting key elements of a concept can elucidate assumptions that should be verified. These include the target customer, the problem to be solved, a bare bones business case, and market impact (pg. 34). Learning is more important than success at this stage.
In Chapter 6, Anthony offers “The Experiment Cookbook,” a set of fourteen tests to verify assumptions in the new product or service idea. These are segregated by amount of time (resources) necessary to validate key variables in the business model: hours, days or weeks, and months.
An interesting experiment that many innovators miss is to pilot the purchase transaction. Anthony illustrates the concept with an example of a children’s toy kiosk that was piloted at a hospital. The short test (days/weeks) indicated the transaction might be more complicated than the new product development (NPD) team anticipated, yielding valuable data for an updated business case.
Part II of “The First Mile” addresses typical pitfalls of innovation efforts. While none of these traps will surprise veteran new product development practitioners, they are timeless reminders of the required checks and balances in any innovation program.
For instance, Chapter 7 describes the challenge of optimism bias in which new product developers’ enthusiasm leads to underestimating cost and schedule while overestimating the payback period. Likewise, Chapter 8 reminds us of the challenge that large corporations face in balancing today’s successful operations with tomorrow’s breakthrough innovations. Many large firms follow a best practice to establish venture divisions or spin-offs that are smaller and nimbler to address radical innovation outside of normal bureaucratic constraints.
Finally, Chapter 9 lists the skills that innovation leaders need to cultivate. Much of the personal growth of an innovation leader is distinct from skills that are needed for effective line management. Anthony advocates (pg. 206):
An ability to handle ambiguous problems,
Seeking chaos and diverse networks, and
Developing new and disconnected skills.
Overall, “The First Mile” is a concise, engaging book with practical tools for innovators and entrepreneurs. New product development professionals will find this book enjoyable based upon the real-life stories that are peppered throughout the text.
Teresa Jurgens-Kowal, Ph.D., NPDP
Global NP Solutions
Released: September 16, 2014, 12:50 pm
| Updated: September 17, 2014, 12:36 pm