Book review: Closing the innovation gap

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“Fundamental or scientific innovations are not only important to companies and the economy. They affect everyone’s life” , writes innovation thinker and entrepreneur Judy Estrin in her book. She creates a strong case for innovation building a strong economic future for everyone.

Judy Estrin looks at the situation in America and describes underlying causes for the decline of the American lead in research and development of technologies. This deterioration of American industrial strength can be traced back to a failure in continuing a tradition of creative thinking and innovation in every aspect of American life. The spirit of new discovery not only in industry and academia has steeply declined over the past decade or so. Instead of looking for long term answers to key challenges in industry and technology, the focus has changed, driven by the now collapsed “Wall Street Culture”, to results that only require a short time horizon.

As a former CTO of Cisco Systems, the author had deep insights to the modern corporate structure. She recognizes how Wall Street and shareholder pressure have shifted emphasis on long term innovative product development, to short term quarterly reports. The result of this short sighted thinking has been a loss of a generation of scientific research and development. The loser in the sheer neglect of longer term scientific research is the entire economy and society.

The power of the book is the approach taken by Judy Estrin. After analyzing the situation she offers concrete and practical solutions. Reading the book it becomes very clear that she understands the process for creativity and innovative discovery as a messy business and difficult to quantify. She does not deny that fact that false trails and failures are part of a successful innovative process. Consequently, executives trying to use standard metrics for their innovation portfolio will often be disappointed in the results delivered by their research team. Instead of further funding they are more often than not steered into immediate marketing solutions. In the end, the opportunities for real innovation are often lost.

Although the book is written form an American perspective I am sure it offers a lot of food for thought to any R&D leader in any company in the current economical situation.

Subject matter: Innovation management
Author: Judy Estrin
Publisher: McGraw-Hill, published August 2008, ISBN: 9780071499873

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