Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow’s Warfighter

Ever since Clayton M. Christensen published his seminal book The Innovator’s Dilemma, executives have understood that technological change can undermine companies and industries with little warning. The challenge, of course, is anticipating, detecting, and addressing disruptive change before the impact undermines the business, costing money and jobs.

For the guys in uniform, unanticipated technological change can be even costlier,  so the Pentagon wants to have an idea of how to better shield itself and the nation from the results of disruption via technology. Avoiding Technology Surprise for Tomorrow’s Warfighter offers the proceedings of a Department of Defense workshop where ways of categorizing, anticipating, and preparing for disruptive technology change were addressed.

You don’t have to be a warfighter to appreciate the results of the symposium, just concerned about technology and disruption. And that should be most of us.

Update: Thanks to James Flanagan from TEDxBeijing for reminding me that Christensen authored The Innovator’s Dilemma, not Kevin Kelly.

The Sources of Innovation

Cover of "The Sources of Innovation"

Cover of The Sources of Innovation

The Sources of Innovation is functionally a companion volume to MIT Professor Eric von Hippel’s later work, Democratizing Innovation, that focuses on users as sources of innovation. In The Sources of Innovation he takes a wide look at a company’s entire supply chain, from material inputs competitors and users, and isolates cases where innovation has come from all.

Von Hippel has changed the debate about innovation, but arguably not enough attention has been given to his work. Too much of the current literature continues to focus on traditional sources of innovation, all of which suggests that a wise competitor would look beyond its own resources for useful and novel ideas.

Also available from Amazon here.

Science and Technology Research and Development Capacity in Japan

This pdf book is a detailed RAND Corporation assessment of Japan’s innovation capabilities, and a comparison between Japan’s capabilities and those of the United States.

Japan has quietly faded as a rival to the US in innovation, eclipsed by its own economic malaise and the brighter corona of China’s rise. The cooler heads at RAND, however, know not to discount Dai Nippon as a global player in innovation. A fascinating read.

South Korea: Mass Innovation Comes of Age

Despite substantial progress from its origins as a low-cost producer, and despite some early evidence of innovative potential, Korea faces considerable challenges moving beyond product evolution and into innovation on a scale that will transform its economy.

Nonetheless, this Demos book by Molly Web gives a positive prognosis, suggesting that innovation will become ubiquitous in Korea in short order.

India, The Uneven Innovator

Planet's cheapest car, the Nano xj.

Image via Wikipedia

As we focus on China’s innovation, we also owe it to our neighbor to the south to make an assessment of its potential as an innovator as well. This book by Kristen Bound and published by UK think tank Demos, assesses the past, present, and future of innovation on the sub-continent, and in the process proposes a model of knowledge creation appropriate for India.

India’s challenges, we learn, are no less challenging than those facing China. They are simply different. Reading through books like this and China, the Next Science Superpower, one gets the impression that any discussion that handicaps either China or India in the competition for global leadership misses the point.

Indeed, if anything, it is about helping both nations overcome their specific challenges, and charting a course forward for companies and nations in a world where innovation is coming from all quarters.

Democratizing Innovation


Image by MarquiBeck via Flickr

Professor Eric von Hippel of MIT makes his books readily available online, and perhaps none is more important than Democratizing Innovation. While most analyses of innovation focuses on the innovation process inside the company and inside the lab, von Hippel explains that companies also need to tap their users as sources of innovation.

Looking at how Apple and all of the companies involved with Android are getting their users to drive innovation through apps and widgets is a superb example. To von Hippel’s analysis, the future belongs to the companies that can appropriately bring users into their product development process.

Also available from Amazon here.

China, The Next Science Superpower?

At the heart of China’s quest to be an innovative country lies the nation’s science establishment. Leaving aside corporate research and development in China, the PRC will depend on the output of its scientists to become a global leader in genuine innovation.

The question, then, is to what extent can China’s scientists support the nation’s aspirations? This book takes a hard, non-partisan look at that question.