January 05, 2004

Guru's Guru on Innovation

Harvard Business Review’s December issue has a feature on management thinkers that influenced today’s top management gurus.

“We asked 200 management gurus – the business thinkers most often mentioned in the media and management literature – who their gurus were, and we received more than 60 responses. The “gurus’ gurus” who received at least two mentions are listed here[1].”

At #1 is Management theorist Peter Drucker. I've just finished reading his treatise on “Innovation and Entrepreneurship: practice and principles”. Although I haven’t read most of the other [47] thinkers, I can vouch for the excellence of thought that Drucker has put in the book, way ahead of similar titles that bookshops today are awash with. Drucker wrote the book back in 1985.

The most remarkable part of the text are the chapters detailing the sources of innovation. In my opinion, this is one of the three critical steps in the process that leads to innovation. One is hiring the right people – those that are most likely to accept change. Second is identifying the opportunity to innovate, which Drucker handles so well in th ebook. And third is leading the innovating enterprise[2].

Fast Company is running a cover story this month on “Apple and the limits of innovation”. I didn't like the way they came down on Apple, and the notion of innovation in the first half of the of the long article[3]. But overall, I agree with the conclusions that “business-model innovation” [or innovation in strategy] is much more profitable than “technical innovation” [or design innovation], the kind that Apple specializes in.

The importance of strategy over design is something -- and I say this with due respect -- that most user experience professionals are entirely clueless about. Hurst, the only person that seems to get the business side of design, still believes that ease of use is the most critical element[4].

Drucker however doesn’t differentiate between the two kinds of innovation. Almost all his examples are from business strategy but the sources that he described are equally applicable for design innovation. I found several threads that can help us identify opportunities for innovation in design.


1. You may order a PDF version of the article here.

2. The listed steps do not necessarily have be sequential.

3. "So what's wrong with being small and profitable," argues this person in a comment on another story of the same issue.

4. In the latest Good Experience Newsletter, while referring to ease of use, he said, “in my book, [it] is the single most important advancement any digital technology can make”. The single most important factor is the value the technology provides - the critical problem that it solves. Ease of use is important as it enhances that value but it’s not the end in itself.


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