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Holiday Reading IV: Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation


This book was a required reading for Prof. Utterback's 'Disruptive Technologies Class. Written in lucid form, this book is informative and highly readable.

The figure shows the Dynamics of Industry Innovation as layed out by Utterback and Abernathy. Most product innovation happens in the early years for a product class or industry. This fluid phase is characterised by innovation and research of the design of the product.

Next comes the transitional phase wherin product innovation slows down and the rate of process innovation begins to speed up. This is the basis for this book.

The first chapter opens with a history of the 'almost' modern day keyboard and typewriters. Interestingly, Mark Twain was one of the first users of their earliest ansestors. With the orgins of the keyboard as backdrop, Utterback builds his framework of distinct phases a product class must go through in its lifetime. These include:

  • New innovation from old capabilities.
  • The arrival of the Dominant Design. This is the one that wins acceptance in the marketplace and usually reduces the performance requiremens of the product making them implicit in the design. The causes of the dominant design include the collateral assets of the leading firm(s), relgulations, strategic maneuvering by firms and user feedback.
  • A shift in ecology of firms. This involves an explosion in comepting firms, followed by an implosion.
  • Waves of Technological change: New technologies and more efficient ways to perform the operations of the older technology.
  • Changes in the dominating firms during breakpoints in technology and finally
  • The invasion of an alien technology.

Utterback's description of the light bulb industry is interesting but anyone who has witnessed his 'performance' of this subject will not be impressed. That was one class I will not forget. While Christensen's book speaks of investing resources in Disruptive Technologies, this book recommends thee continuous renewal of established firms through the development of core competencies and focusing on the breadth of the product. One of his suggestions is to use multiple product lines. This sort of renewal, Utterback suggest will protect firms from radical innovation.He concludes that innovation in a firm is not to confined just to the technologists but must pervade all areas of the firm.

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