posted 5 Apr 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 7
Book review: Hyperinnovation
Wilma Garvin reviews Hyperinnovation: Multidimensional Enterprise in the Connected Economy by Chris Harris.
Author: Chris Harris
Publishers: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002
Chris Harris’s thesis in Hyperinnovation is that the business world is interconnecting in every conceivable dimension, from ideas to technology to markets and even entire industries. As a result, the boundaries between once disparate business concepts are becoming more multi-dimensional. This demands a complete rethink in terms of strategies, cultures, organisations and methodologies to bring about innovation. He goes on to discuss how uncertainty is not just an occasional deviation from predictability and has become a common feature of the business environment. Complexity is an underlying theme in the book and the definition of complexity science is given to describe how large numbers of interrelated agents behave as a whole.
In Hyperinnovation, he puts forward three principles. The first is that the potential for hyperinnovation is proportional to the number of the meaningful interconnections between agents. He explains this with an equation, which specifies that the number of possible (meaningful or otherwise) interconnections is half of the square of the sum of agents in a network, so ten agents in a network would have 45 possible interconnections. Harris describes the payoff as being the increased number of innovation possibilities.
The second principle is that of the unexpected. He says that the greater the complexity and/or novelty embedded within a given innovation, the greater the frequency of the unexpected. Uncertainty is the final principle, which says that the degree of novelty (newness) and complexity (diversity of ideas) embedded within any particular invention sets a limit on the cycle-time to market. The novelty and complexity factors, therefore, need to be defined before deciding whether a specific launch window can be achieved.
Innovation is something that all companies are seeking. In The Knowledge Creating Company, Nonaka and Takeuchi (1995) described how knowledge creation leads to continuous improvement that results in competitive advantage.
Knowledge creation - continuous innovation - competitive advantage
Hyperinnovation also holds that innovation lies at the core of today’s competitive strategy. The book looks at the five building blocks of core competencies – explicit knowledge base, skills, tools, processes and focus. In The Wellsprings of Knowledge, Dorothy Leonard also discusses the need to plan for the continuous rejuvenation of a company’s strategically important knowledge assets – its core capabilities – which she explains as problem solving, values, skills and knowledge, managerial systems, and physical systems. She also points out that paradoxically, core capabilities can also be a company’s core restraint and recommends that organisations can improve their core capabilities by ‘purposeful experimentation’ to ensure that today’s capabilities do not become tomorrow’s core rigidities.
Hyperinnovation also discusses the importance of prototyping for managing risk in any innovation process, and the importance of learning as the single most effective way to minimise the levels of risk. Prototyping is also emphasised by Leonard for both technical and organisational purposes. David Kelley, founder of IDEO, a leading design firm in Palo Alto, has said that you have to have the guts to create a straw man.
A useful section on hyperinnovation tools is also included. Among these, he has listed the Simplex method of applied creativity, developed by Min Basadur, author of The Power of Innovation. Howard Rheingold, author of The Virtual Community and Smart Mobs, describes these tools as intellectual power tools and the Simplex method is a powerful example.  It offers a way to avoid the serial thinking that Hyperinnovation says blinds us to the novel business contexts emerging today.
Harris’s background is in the telecommunications, media and aerospace industries, so this book will probably strike a chord with other people who are working on complex, technology projects. However, as companies are seeking innovation for competitive advantage, this book offers a wealth of insights built up over Harris’s 20 years in complex systems innovation and the performance of new product development that would be a useful addition to anyone interested in knowledge management and is involved in innovation.
In 700BC, Amen-em-apt said that the pilot who sees from afar will not make his boat wreck. Hyperinnovation offers a roadmap to technological development in the 21st century. The book covers many different aspects of the multidimensional enterprise that managers are grappling with now. It provides useful guidance on setting up a futuring workshop, developing a culture of multidimensional leadership, motivation techniques for a multidimensional team and how to start the bottom-up ignition of multiple targets.
1. Nonaka, I. & Takeuchi, H., The Knowledge-Creating Company: How Japanese Companies create the dynamics of Innovation (OUP, 1995)
2. Leonard, D., Wellsprings of Knowledge: Building and Sustaining the sources of Innovation (Harvard Business School Press, 1998)
3. Basadur, M., The Power of Innovation: How to Make Innovation a Way of Life and put Creative Solutions to Work (Financial Times Prentice Hall, 1994)
4. Rheingold, H., The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier (The MIT Press, 2000)
5. Rheingold, H., Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolutions (Perseus Publishing, 2003)
Wilma Garvin is a consultant with RGMC. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org