"Genius is in-born, may it never be still-born."

"Oysters, irritated by grains of sand, give birth to pearls. Brains, irritated by curiosity, give birth to ideas."

"Brainpower is the bridge to the future; it is what transports you from wishful thinking to willful doing."

"Unless you keep learning & growing, the status quo has no status."

Saturday, August 29, 2009


Drawing a proven application from another industry or sphere of activity, & then adapt & apply it successfully in another totally different realm, is essentially one of the hallmarks of creative brainpower.

Two professors of operations & information management (who have also developed products & launched businesses) have done just that - using the extremely popular 'American Idol' contest as a model, & transposing it into what is basically an 'idea tournament': starting with a large pool of ideas & vetting down to few specific winners.

[In fact, among many other real-world case studies, their fascinating story of 'Red Bull', which originated in rural Thailand, especially among the trucker community, & now popular among club goers & youth throughout the world, is another classic example.]

In a nut shell, the two authors now offer a systematic approach to producing & choosing high-potential innovations.

Hence, their new book, 'Innovation Tournaments: Creating & Selecting Exceptional Opportunities', which I have read only a couple of weeks ago.

The two professors are Christian Terwiesch & Karl Ulrich at the famed Wharton School, & their book captures beautifully the entire innovation process, with all the principles & tool sets.

Specifically for me, at last, I get to read - after having read so much of innovation books from the marketplace over the years - a really state-of-the-art innovation book that caters to both sides of the brain: an integrated view, combining creative inspiration & serendipitous discoveries (right-brain, random), with systematic process management approach & professional rigour (left-brain, bottom-line).

I have really enjoyed reading & digesting the book from cover to cover, which is actually broken down as follows, aka the "roadmap":

1. Tournaments 101: A Primer for Innovators (introducing the concept & identifying KPI within a tournament);

2. In-House Sources: Generating Opportunities Internally;

3. Outside Sources: Sensing Opportunities Externally;

4. Elimination Round: Screening Opportunities (discussing the first elimination round in a tournament);

5. Strategic Fit: Pulling Opportunities from Strategy (aligning your tournament with your strategy);

6. Short-Term Profitability: Analyzing Near Horizon Opportunities;

7. Interdependence: Forming Opportunity Portfolios;

8. Long-Term Profitability: Managing Far-Horizon Opportunities;

9. Structure: Shaping the Innovation Funnel;

10. Administration: Organizing and Governing Innovation (focusing on enhancing opportunity sensitivity as an organsation);

11. Tournaments 201: An Innovator's Guide to Getting Started (discussing the organisation of tournaments & suggesting different approaches);

To make reading a breeze, each chapter is suffixed with a brisk chapter summary, & what I like most are the diagnostic questions that follow the summary.

From a cumulative standpoint, I can see that the questions have been designed specifically to determine your level of innovation savvy.

To me, together with the intelligent filtering process as outlined by the two authors, they are the gems of the book, as they set the reader to think strategically while planning to use a tournament as an organisational problem solving process.

The principal premise of the authors is that the tournament approach allows for greater variability in the ideas proposed i.e. the greater the variation in quality of options, the more likely there are to be a few very good ones.

From the opportunity-sensing point of view, Chapter 2, 3 & 4 are my personal favourites, as they are the starting point - the pool, so to speak - for you to screen & act on all the ideas as a portfolio, followed by Chapter 6, 7 & 8, as they explain how to analyse, how to deal with expectations, constraints, interdependencies, as well as risk diversification, & how to cultivate & develop the riskier options (which often give rise to the most profitable opportunities), respectively.

To help in stimulating your business opportunity creation, the authors offer 14 great windows of opportunity: 8 from inhouse sources; 6 from external sources. They are elegantly illustrated in Chapter 2 & 3.

To me, they have certainly built on & given a new spin to what strategist Michel Robert & management guru Peter Drucker had come up with the ten broad windows of opportunity.

Interestingly, this wonderful book doesn't end at the last page 242. With the aid of the appendix, it leads readers to explore more tools & access more web resources e.g. Darwinator Software, to support your opportunity screening.

As a parting shot for this review:

I must add that I certainly like the authors' definition:

"We define an opportunity as the seed that might later grow into an innovation. An opportunity is an innovation in embryonic form, a newly sensed seed, a newly discovered technology, or a rough match between a need & a possible solution."

How do we as innovators spot profit-making opportunities when they're still in the embryonic stage? I am glad that the two authors have done a great job in answering the pertinent question for readers, but we still have to do all the hard work.

On the whole, it has been a engaging book to read, digest & learn.

I strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking to develop an integrated process to manage innovation.

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