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Friday, November 1, 2013

"Innovation's Dirty Little Secrets" (Larry Osborne)

TITLE: Innovation's Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail (Leadership Network Innovation Series)
AUTHOR: Larry Osborne
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013, (176 pages).

It is one thing to have a wonder hit. It is yet another to keep the hits coming. In a book that talks, breathes, and sings all things "innovation," readers are quickly brought down to earth with the "dirty little secret" that pronounces the death sentence: "Most innovations fail." What a way to begin a book. Observing that most leadership gurus and conference experts tend not to be upfront about this secret, Osborne believes that the ability to respond to failures is the ultimate secret of continued innovation. There is no such thing as a guarantee for success. Neither are failures debilitating. Perhaps, one reason why gurus and leadership trainers skirt the failure issue is because the general culture prefers an optimistic ideal rather than a harsh reality check. Osborne, a senior pastor of one of America's most innovative churches provides readers with many kinds of reality checks, six pitfalls of growth, three leadership felonies, and eight critical leadership questions to ask when embarking upon any idea or innovation. Let me summarize the book through seven reality checks.

The first reality check is to enter with an exit strategy in mind. This is what "conscious competents" have over "unconscious competents." The latter is heady with skyhigh expectations while the former is grounded in reality. Serial innovators are those who have a special insight, a unique courage, and amazing flexibility. The eight exit strategy questions help to deepen such grounded realities.

The second reality check is about understanding the culture in terms of efficacy and the idea being widely adoptable. Determining the "right" idea is more important than having many ideas. Know the difference between self-expressive art versus problem-solving organizational changes. Innovation takes priority over mere aesthetics.

The third reality check is about the need for clarity. Mission statements need to be evaluated for clarity and purpose. Actions speaks louder than words or ideas. Having a respected champion in the team will go a long way in stimulating any change process.

The fourth reality check is about watching out for the pitfalls of growth and success. There are warnings against falling into "groupthink" situations to allow the herd mentality to override appropriate decisions.  There is the unhelpful desire to let "desire for harmony" to rule over good sense. There are those who place too much weight on surveys and votes and then misapply them. There are also people who let past successes become a predictor of the future. Together with the three "leadership felonies," innovations will not only fail but leave behind a trail of despair and discouragement.

The fifth reality check is to know what to do (or not to do) when one hits the wall. Trace back to factors such as leadership skills, growth addictions, or personnel evaluations. Leaders will then need to check from cultural changes to appropriate leadership styles and skills. Are expectations realistic? Is there a need to change reporting or leadership structure? Is it time to start thinking outside the box?

The sixth reality check is about making sure one understands vision, and not to be confused by the difference between mission and vision. Six things are listed to help one refine vision.
  1. Vision already exists. All it needs is focusing or removing the blur.
  2. Vision often evolves, beginning with a general sense of direction but with a destination in mind.
  3. Vision comes from within.
  4. Vision clarifies priorities
  5. Vision matches reality
  6. Vision is not simply a concoction out of a meeting
Leaders need to be able to verify, to communicate, to build a team, and to preserve the vision.

The final reality check is about sustenance. It is not enough to have a one-hit wonder. Innovation is only innovation if it can be continuously so. This calls for asking the right questions on a regular basis. It calls for a freedom to share, to agree or disagree. It calls for humility and honesty.

So What?

Innovation is essential not only in for-profit enterprises, it is also critical for non-profits, churches, and organizations. Imagine a pastor writing a book about innovation? That is because Osborne himself is leading a Church that is innovative in many ways. Reading this book, one can sense the frustrations Osborne feels when bad ideas take off while good ideas falter; when earnest leaders become discouraged when their best intentions lack executions; when Churches fail to grow due to erroneous ideas about vision, mission, or understanding organizational cultures; when mistakes should not have been repeated are repeated; etc. With many catchy pointers and easy to follow reality checks, readers will be excited to be bold about ideas, to be honest about failures, and to be able to let reality guide their expectations while hoping for the best that is yet to be.

This book reminds me of William Arthur Ward's famous words: "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." As far as this book is concerned, it begins pessimistically, evolves optimistically, and communicates realistically. What a book!

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and Cross Focused Reviews in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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