I just finished reading a pre-release edition of The Wide Lens: A New Strategy for Innovation by Ron Adner of Dartmouth. I understand the point of the title, but it doesn’t really immediately impart the true nature of this book, which is focused on how to commercialize innovation with a proactive view and understanding of the players in its ecosystem.
I’ll tell you upfront, I was excited to finally see a book that’s addressing this topic that is near and dear to my heart. Professor Adner makes the case that not understanding and contemplating the co-innovation risks and value chain risks in bringing innovation to market is one of the reasons many innovations fail.
Adner highlights many examples of failed innovations from a lack of ecosystem/value chain understanding (excerpted from Fortier Public Relations release) :
- Nokia spent millions to be first to market with a 3G handset, but failed to profit because critical partners in its ecosystem did not complete their innovations in time. By the time customized video streaming, location based services, and automated payment systems were finally ready, so was the competition. We see this same dynamic with 3D TVs today.
- Pfizer’s miraculous inhalable insulin approved by the FDA, hailed by Wall Street analysts, launched with huge fanfare ended up as one of the biggest failures in the history of the pharmaceutical industry when endocrinologists wouldn’t embrace the requirement of lung function testing.
- Michelin’s big innovation in tires—designed to run for 125 miles after a blowout—failed to take off, despite the backing of major automakers, because the company failed to see that there were insufficient service centers to repair these run-flat tires before going to market.
He goes on to highlight inspirational examples of companies taking on the difficult, but powerful concept of proactively addressing the ecosystems relevant to their categories and products:
- Apple and their iPod and then iPhone, while great products, were truly successful because of the brilliant work Jobs did in timing his innovations in line with development of the proprietary ecosystem he built around them. This story is well worn, but a more telling example is the more recent development of the iPad and the need for Apple to ensure that content providers (outside of Jobs control) would engage and support the nascient opportunity.
- Better Place is a battery and electric vehicle charging start-up that has contemplated the importance of the ecosystem from the start. They’ve carved out an interesting approach and unique business model for battery swapping that removes much of the upfront cost and may accelerate adoption of EV’s.
- Digital Cinema Initiative (DCI) is an example of a consortium of movie studios coming together in a unique way to overcome the cost of adopting digital film within the theatre value chain. In essence, they subsidized and shared the cost of capital investment in smaller theatre chains to ensure that digital film would enjoy the broad distribution and availability critical to its growth.
Adner does an outstanding job of making the case for innovation strategies and commercialization plans that proactively address the ecosystem and needs of the key players. Where I do think he’s fallen short is in the tool set he’s promoting to adopt this “Wide Lens” approach. I think there are a growing number of cases of companies building proactive networks for innovation and co-innovation and he’s only lightly touched on many of the co-innovation strategies that P&G, GSK, Pfizer and others are using to co-develop and co-commercialize innovation.
I often speak with my clients about the important role that open innovation and external connections have not only in solving innovation technical problems… but just as importantly in informing strategy with new opportunities and new capabilities.
I highly recommend The Wide Lens to anyone involved in innovation strategies, commercialization and new business development. And to the growing group of ‘open innovation’ geeks interested in understanding the next evolution of open innovation – the development and management of innovation networks.