How Innovation Works Matt Ridley (pre-launch)

Author Matt Ridley suggests that “innovation is the most important fact about the modern world”.

His 2020 book – release date put back at the publisher’s behest so he could write an extra pandemic-related chapter – has numerous pr pieces, podcast and youtube appearances in its prolonged run-up which ably promote his main vehicle for explanation. Namely the fascinating stories of those attempting the near impossible task of what he cites as “innovationism”.

He chooses a specific definition to start from which purposely separates invention from innovation.

I myself always like the scale using opposite poles of innovation and imitation. Points somewhere in between being the most commonly successful fertile ground of appropriation.

The author here uses innovation to mean building upon an invention in a way that makes it become adopted.

This distinction would be valid if no inventor had ever maximised their creation’s material gains. Yet I am unconvinced of that. Despite such accepted convention-shaping wisdom as From Good To Great ‘revealing’ new market ‘followers’ end up owning their space at the expense of those ‘leaders’ which created that market in the first place.

This may well rely on nuances in demarcation of what actually constitutes a brand spanking fresh new invention anyway. After all, to say that someone like James Dyson with his vacuum cleaner impact is definitely one but not the other of inventor/innovator seems to dilute the core and prescient argument.

For every lost invention – how about the infamous Starlite of Maurice Ward – there may indeed not be a direct corollary. Countless ‘inventions’ exist – just check out novelty products, gimmicks and toys that flash across the globe – where (eventually) the inventor earns huge spoils. Joy Mangano and her Miracle Mop springs to mind courtesy of the subsequent A-List Hollywood movie treatment. All down to snaring a tv slot for herself? Surely not…

Admittedly such ‘cultural’ contributions are deliberately not the types of target innovation for this book. Still, that is not to negate this work. Far from it. The stories so far put out are captivating.

In terms of any salesperson selling something ‘new’ – about which I fervently blog and am fortunate enough to find the odd forward-thinking sensible salesteam commission my knowledge to help navigate the career halting minefield that is so often the selling of their latest new wares (if only they’d do so sooner, rather than wait until a launch ‘flops’) – he sets out his own wonderful description of the perils of such endeavour.

In particular using the 1662 experience of a William Perry;

“…when a new invention is first propounded in the beginning every man objects and the poor inventor runs the gauntloop of all petulant wits, every man finding his several flaw, no man approving it unless mended according to his own device”.

There can scarcely be a solution salesperson that has not felt the pain of such “gauntloop”.

So there is such an open door he pushes with his wail that most (practically all, even) companies (and governments) say they value innovation whilst doing virtually nothing to let it flourish.

He extracts from his tales a list of ten innovation “essentials”.

These can be mapped onto our Sales efforts.

Let’s take the first of ‘gradual’ by way of example.

It is indeed a gradual process. How many salesforces expect overnight success? For me this applies not just to the timeframe for creating innovation, but for it to embed and prove itself worthy. A world of instant results innovation ain’t. Once you accept this, you can amend how you report on it. Imagine how much more successful a failed new push of your past might have been if Management had seen figures reported separately, broken down across different period spans, and with instant impact emphasis turned into a momentum building lens.

The full list features; gradual, different from invention, often serendipitous, recombinant, involves trial and error, a team sport, inexorable, ‘hype cycle’, prefers fragmented governance & increasingly means using fewer resources rather than more.

How many of them you consider for your latest sales innovation may well make the difference between a hit or a miss.

footnote; many worthy reviews of this book are online, sadly often behind a paywall, such as one by the ever-engaging Rory Sutherland, which contains this terrific highlight that I sense could be a Sales slide, changing the subject noun as required;

One of the best of many good sentences in the book should be framed above every bureaucrat’s desk:
‘It’s not saying no that’s the problem: it’s saying yes slowly.’

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