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BOOK REVIEW BY RICHARD PACHTER
Robert’s Rules of Innovation: A 10-Step Program for Corporate Survival. Robert F. Brands. Wiley. 212 pages.
It seems fairly obvious that innovation and the development of new products and services should be priorities. Most companies at least pay lip service to the idea but in the real world, many firms, unconsciously or not, dissuade this form of creativity in favor of the tasks at hand. Even such organizations as 3M, fabled home of tape of all kinds, have been known to be less receptive — at first — to innovations like those that led to the creation of Post-It notes, which ultimately became a multi-billion dollar business. Sadly, that seems to be the rule and not the exception.
Coral Springs-based consultant Robert Brands’ book has a corny title, playing off his name, of course, but beyond the silliness, there’s a short, smart, sharp primer for organizations of all sizes and shapes seeking to leverage innovation for growth, profits and, ultimately, survival.
Brand is a consultant now, but posseses a strong résumé from time spent at a variety of corporate entities, focusing on product development. His most recent claim to fame is the development of the method and mechanism that turns hand soap into an airy foam, which he says has revolutionized the industry — most likely by adding a new angle to the soap dispenser that helped vendors replace existing equipment with new ones. (Don’t know about you, but they don’t produce a better lather or get my paws any cleaner, though your mileage may vary.)
Regardless, Brands makes an excellent case for innovation — revenue generation. As he sees it, it isn’t an option but an absolute necessity.
He writes: ”Remember, innovation is not a luxury, even for today’s most successful companies. Sustaining success means ongoing renewal of your intellectual property (IP) portfolio. After all, technologies become dated; end-user fashions change; and new processes, materials, and capabilities emerge. Like breakers at the seashore, the life cycle of a technology begins, crests, and falls off as, all the while, new technologies form and carry momentum of their own — an ongoing cycle of innovation energy, if you will.”
In addition to walking through each step of the innovation process (liberally seasoned with his own observations and self-deprecating asides), Brands includes useful and surprisingly detailed discussions of related topics like ideation, creativity, management, intellectual property issues and more. And it’s not all out of his own experiences, either, with plenty of citations sprinkled throughout from experts in the field. In addition to anecdotes and observations from a handful of fellow innovation executives, Brands invokes some of the more formalized academic thinking on the subject, most notably the Star-Gate process, which systematizes ideation and development into something that’s replicable and transferable. Brands also provides lots of checklists, assessments, some charts, bullet points and more, including a transcript of a roundtable discussion with fellow innovation pros.
Though the book itself is a combination of old and new, and Brands’ light but comprehensive approach may not itself be astonishingly innovative, it could be a useful catalyst for product development in your own moribund organization.