Magazine

All Revved Up About Innovation


Congratulations for continuing to push the champion-for-innovation envelope (in Quarterly, June 19). Even before "The innovation economy" (Cover Story, Oct. 11, 2004), BusinessWeek (MHP) has been the foremost voice for "innovation to remain globally competitive" among major publications. Most likely, a future topic in IN will be how to leverage innovation through outsourcing to bring additional creative insights from outside the company. Many businesses are doing this right now. But if a company outsources too many of its high-value-creating functions (research and development, design engineering, product innovation and development, advanced manufacturing, customer communication, etc.), it will damage or lose its ability to develop the tacit knowledge needed to maintain its innovative capabilities within the company. I hope this will also be a topic in a future issue of IN.

Jim Leonard

Evergreen, Colo.

Regardless of the historical discussion of innovation, from Joseph A. Schumpeter's creative destruction to Clayton M. Christensen's innovator's dilemma, the goal of innovation must be simple, i.e., to make people's lives happier as much as possible. Its outcome is also straightforward: Listening to an iPod (AAPL), we feel cheerful. Driving a Prius (TM), we feel proud. Having Google (GOOG) Inc.'s on-target results, we feel lucky.

Innovation can bloom anywhere, not necessarily in tech-related fields. Innovation needs to prosper especially in developing countries where economic and social potentialities are still untapped. For that matter, microfinance originating in Bangladesh is a good example of innovation that contributes to efficient use of resources as well as to poverty reduction.

Yuki Shirato

Tokyo

So, innovation is "the new black" ("Introducing IN," Editor's Memo, June 19)? Can't you just envision how this is going to unfold? First we get a few articles and a couple of books identifying the new class and its stars. Then we'll see mention of the innovators who were innovating before it was cool. There will be outrageous bidding wars for the top innovators. We've already seen some of the innovators in B-schools linking up with designers, artists, and other creative types. Soon the me-too schools will be rushing to catch up. Then comes the classic argument: Is innovation something that can be taught or is it an inborn trait that can only be identified and enhanced? The teachers and consultants whose very existence relies on the former will insist that it can be taught, and they will have the studies to prove it. Real innovators will smirk at the prospect and move on.

Have you gotten your organization's I-score? What about your own personal I-score? If innovation is the new black, then everyone who doesn't have it is going to want to know how to get it, or pretend they don't need it and then sneak the consultant in after dark to cool them up. In a couple of years there will be a major scandal when it is discovered that some CEO doctored the results of his HBDI (Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument) assessment when he was younger and between jobs.

That will be followed by some backlash and reflection on the whole subject by the pundits. Best-sellers will include titles such as The Seven Habits of Highly Innovative People; Innovative Dad, Rich Dad; Good to Great Innovators!; and, of course, The One Minute Innovator.

Phil Tomlinson

Montoursville, Pa.

The key metric in any business has to be customer satisfaction ("Satisfaction not guaranteed," News: Analysis & Commentary, June 19). It is a predictor of the short-term earnings and long-term value of a business. For a large company it becomes very complicated to measure and monitor, but it is crucial to do so. Even more crucial is the ability to diagnose a slipping customer-satisfaction index and then prescribe effective solutions.

Mega-retailers such as Home Depot Inc. (HD) have learned that cutting costs also cuts customer benefits, which damages loyalty and ultimately causes the loss of customers. The same has happened at Dell Inc. (DELL): The company has focused on costs so intensively that it lost its focus on the customer experience.

I wish BusinessWeek would post more customer-satisfaction information, which is a predictive indicator of a company's future value. It would be very useful to your readers.

Thomas E. Bayer, CPA

Springfield, Ill.

Service isn't everything, but in the long run, when it comes to customer retention, it's just about everything.

J. Alan Day

Fairfax, Vt.

It's symptomatic of our failing healthcare system that Big Pharma has joined the medical service industry ("Big Pharma's nurse will see you now," Science & Technology, June 12). In doing so, companies walk a fine ethical line between care for patients and care for shareholders. The nurses are clearly providing a valuable and, perhaps, necessary service to both patients and physicians. The argument that these nurses make physicians' jobs easier is similar to the assertion that drug reps do the same -- neither is necessarily true if our physicians prescribe according to the best medical evidence available.

Still, it is certainly preferable to see drug companies spend money on patients rather than physicians. The ethical complications of the latter scenario are numerous. Physicians must take care to understand the effects these marketing practices have on their prescribing practices.

Justin Sanders

Burlington, Vt.


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