|Book Review: The Silver Lining|
The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times
Written by: Scott D. Anthony. Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009. 210+iv pages.
Reading the current business and financial headlines makes it hard to imagine that any company is even remotely thinking about innovation. Cost reduction and sheer survival seem to be more top of mind than disruptive innovation. Is anyone really thinking beyond a couple of quarters? Given that the last big U.S. economic downturn was during World War II, long before the concept of “disruptive” technology or innovation was mainstream, the author should be applauded for writing a book that shows how to take advantage of innovation during these difficult times.
In Chapter 1, “The Great Disruption,” the author attempts to motivate the reader by providing examples of companies that became successes during tough times. The author points out that customers start looking more aggressively for solutions to problems once hidden that surface during economic downturns (p. 7). In addition, companies who once suffered from overabundance of research and development (R&D) resources begin to scrutinize their portfolios much more closely due to a scarcity of resources (p. 13). The current great disruption requires transformative innovation for companies (p. 16). The focus on operational excellence of the 1980s and 1990s will not be enough. Companies must seize this opportunity.
Chapters 2 and 3 discuss how to prune the existing opportunities and improve the existing product portfolio. Chapters 4–7 promote forward-looking strategies that foster more innovation. These include the following:
Chapter 8 looks at personal reinvention as a driver for innovation. The case is made for managers developing their ability to manage through myriad business paradoxes (pp. 154–155). Several suggestions are made on how managers can improve their “Innovation Muscle” (pp. 159–160). Chapter 9 provides final encouragement by showcasing companies that are on the verge of new disruptive developments such as Facebook, Amazon.com's Kindle, Alibaba.com, and Hulu.com.
The Silver Lining should not be considered a sequel to Innovator's Guide to Growth (Anthony et al., 2008). The author has touched on topics that many would consider outside his area of expertise. However, the author has painted the broad landscape of today's best thinking on innovation and avoids any deep dives into any particular area. Much of what is discussed references previous research and studies by the author and other noted experts in the area of innovation and product development. The informed reader will find very few new ideas on innovation, but the author has done an admirable job compiling some of the latest thinking and case studies on innovation. His perspective will encourage companies to use what limited resources they may have toward creating the next great innovation that will grow their business, help their customers get their jobs done, and hopefully disrupt the competitive landscape to their advantage.
Silver Lining reminds us to keep a positive perspective on innovation even during difficult times because it can be the launch point for even greater success. Innovation is in many ways analogous to farming. The basics of planning and preparation, hard work, patience, and perseverance are always necessary, but so is hope in a better future. If there wasn't hope for a better tomorrow, then what would be the purpose?