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X marks the spot May 11, 2010

Posted by Brian Payer in Uncategorized.
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Innovation X is another entry into the field of design for business, business by design type of books. The author is placing this entry in response to other books in the field, like Change by Design, by IDEO CEO Tim Brown. Innovation X attempts to establish thought leadership, but it is in fact following the trend. However, it still brings a different perspective to an evolving field.

Adam Richardson is a principal at frog design, and he approaches this book like a designer. He does what any good designer does – takes existing things or ideas and pieces them together, with a slight twist. Like any good consultant, Richardson contends that the world can be viewed on a 2×2 matrix. Except he twists his matrix 45 degrees, so it’s an “X” instead of a square.

The 4 components of the X framework are Immersion across from Adaption and Divergence across from Convergence. These are terms that encompass standard elements of the design process, including customer insights, idea generation, solution selection and flexibility. Richardson suggests that practitioners progress around the X framework from Immersion to Divergence to Convergence to Adaption. Basically this builds upon the process outlined in “Design as a Learning Process” from California Management Review, by Sara Beckman and Michael Barry. The paper won several awards and is frequently cited, so it makes good sense to include it in this book.

Another concept that Richardson borrows is the idea of a “wicked problem,” a term coined by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber decades ago. A wicked problem is distinguished by the fact that neither the problem nor the solution are known, making it maddeningly difficult to approach the problem and find workable solutions. Richardson tries to differentiate X Problems from wicked problems, but the distinction is not clear. He basically renames wicked problems as X Problems for the purposes of this book, but adds terms like “extreme,” “mysterious,” and “crossroads” that the original authors avoided.

Richardson encourages his readers to tackle their most challenging problems head on, noting that X Problems are rich sources of opportunity. The innovations and solutions that come from working on X Problems often lead to competitive differentiation in the market. Richardson directs readers to seek new sources of innovation, not strictly technology innovation or product design innovation. He builds on the work of Clayton Christiansen, who coined the often misused term “disruptive innovation”. And he cites Geoffrey Moore’s work from Dealing with Darwin, where Moore distinguishes a dozen types of innovation by both type and degree of innovation.

Perhaps the best and most useful insight from Innovation X is the fact that products, services, companies must be viewed as systems rather than individual components. The old view of breaking things down into component parts is insufficient to address the most complex problems and opportunities facing companies today.

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