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Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy Hardcover – 1 Sep 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: McGraw-Hill Professional (1 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0071499873
  • ISBN-13: 978-0071499873
  • Product Dimensions: 15.5 x 2.3 x 23.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 593,843 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Back Cover

"Required reading for whoever takes over the Oval Office in January."
-Therest Ploletti, MarketWatch

“Judy Estrin has zeroed in on the lack of long-term thinking in business and culture that is one of the gravest problems we face today. Her urgent call to action is a must-read for anyone interested in fostering and accelerating innovation in their business or organization.”
-Bob Iger, CEO, The Walt Disney Company

"Deeply thought-provoking. An extraordinary tapestry of commentary drawn from scores of interviews and woven into a coherent fabric about innovation and why it must be a part of America's future."
-Vint Cerf, vice president and chief Internet evangelist, Google

"Concerned about the future of America's role in the global economy? Then, whether you're a business leader, educator or policy maker, you should read this book. America achieved greatness through its ability to engineer, explore and innovate. Estrin provides a fresh perspective on the importance of innovation to our future, and shines a bright light on the problems we face in rebuilding its crumbling cultural and educational foundations."
Sally K. Ride, Ph.D., first American woman astronaut

"Judy Estrin is one of Silicon Valley's greatest entrepreneurs and technologists. If you care about the state of entrepreneurship and management in the 21st century, her book is a must-read."
-Roger McNamee, managing director, Elevation Partners

About the Author

Judy Estrin is CEO of JLABS, LLC. She cofoundedseven technology companies and was chief technology officer at Cisco Systems. Serving on the board of directors of The Walt Disney Corporation and FedEx Corporation, Estrin is also a member of the technology advisory boards of Stanford’s School of Engineering and Bio-X campus-wide interdisciplinary initiative. She has been named three times to Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.

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Format: Hardcover
If I fully understand Judy Estrin's key points (and I may not), there are at least two "gaps" that need to be reduced, if not closed: between where innovation in the US once was and where it is now as well as between where innovation in the US is now and where it could (and should) be. One of the important - and most useful -- terms on her book is "innovation ecosystem." In an Introduction that really should be read 2-3 times before embarking on the first of eight chapters, Estrin observes that "Biological ecosystems that sustain life are models for the organizations, people, and forces that enable innovation. Life flourishes because of a dynamic interaction between communities of living organisms and their environment...In Innovation Ecosystems, the collaborative organisms include scientists, product developers, businesspeople, service providers, and customers, all of whom participate in one or more of three communities: research, development, and application. Ongoing- sustainable innovation results from interactions between [and among] these communities at an organizational, national, and global level."

Contrary to appearances that suggest that the American Ecosystem is stable and secure, Estrin asserts, "we are rapidly losing our advantage." Who are "we"? America, of course, but the
"we" could also refer to the reader and her or his associates in the same organization or to everyone on Earth. So it can be argued that, in fact, there are three (rather than two) "gaps" to be reduced, if not closed, and the third exists on a global basis.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. G. Carroll VINE VOICE on 19 July 2010
Format: Hardcover
Judy Estrin has a genuine pedigree in innovation coming from a family of innovators. Her father worked with John von Neumann (the father of modern digital computing) at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton and her mother was a professor at the computer science department of UCLA. Judy has a Silicon Valley pedigree having had senior roles or been a board member at: Sun Microsystem (who build servers on which banks, telecoms providers and many dot.coms depended - now part of Oracle), Cisco (who pretty much are the internet infrastructure) and FedEx.

The book addresses the challenge of innovation that we currently have.

In Closing the innovation gap, I found the book to fall into three distinct sections:

* Charting the origins and progress of what I will call `innovation entropy' in the west. This talks about how the cold war was entwined with the rise and stall of innovative research that helped in creation of technology that we take for granted today: keyhole surgery, the internet, modern computers, cellular phones and CCDs (coupled-charged device which go into digital cameras.)
* The economic and cultural effects of `innovation entropy'. In this respect Estrin echoes the work of Will Hutton's The state we're in published in 1996 which I read in college. Like Hutton, Estrin is a critic of short-termism in business, the financial markets, academia and government spending. Some of this short-termism was unintentional as the law of unintended consequences kicked in due to changes in regulations that were designed to encourage innovation.
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Amazon.com: 20 reviews
20 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Describes the policy issues well with little innovation in the solutions. 2 Nov. 2008
By Mark P. McDonald - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Closing the innovation gap intends to influence and shape our approach to science and technology policy more than provide a guide for the practitioner. Judy Estrin is an accomplished innovator, founder, and executive leader, and this book expresses her concerns regarding the current state of scientific research, education, and innovation.

This is not a book about how to make yourself, your team, or your company more innovative. If you are looking for tools and techniques to be more innovative, then you are better off looking elsewhere and I have some recommendations at the end of the review. This is a public policy book; one of many that have come out recently given the change in government with the 2008 elections. Its helpful, but for the policy analyst rather than the practitioner.

A Silicon Valley exec recommended this book to me as an answer to the issues facing our economy in the future. It is a good book at describing the issues we face and the history of how we got to where we are. It's a recommended read from a policy perspective. This book is good, particularly if you want to understand the West Coast view on issues of economic development and scientific policy.

Analysis below.

Estrin's primary argument is that since the 1980's US policy, economics, and responses to crisis have eroded the scientific edge that we enjoyed following the 1940's. The innovation gap she discusses exists when she compares today to the types of basic research and breakthroughs that happened in the 1950's and 1960's.

As a policy book, Estrin does a good job of highlighting the legislative, economic and other changes that have eroded the country's focus on science and basic scientific research. That is strength of the book in terms of highlighting laws and policy changes that most people are not aware of. Changes in accounting laws, Sarbanes Oxley, government accountability, changes in grants have all reshaped the scientific research ecosystem.

As a policy book, Estrin's solutions are vague and organized more around unwinding legislation and developments rather than moving forward. More money for education, teaching people to be innovative, more support for basic scientific research, less immediate accountability are among the book's policy prescriptions. Estrin is right that basic research is different and cannot be done on a schedule. I had hoped for a more innovative set of policies, ones that recognized where we are, the context we face and how do more in a different direction, rather than undoing what has been done.

The book reflects a decidedly west coast/silicon valley view of the world. Most of the examples are silicon valley based and reflect Estrin's position as a member of the boards of several major companies and here past positions at CISCO and as a founder of other high tech companies. This perspective gives Estrin the standing and experience to comment on the issues of science and innovation.

Estrin's position in the west coast high tech world colors the book's analysis and policy recommendations. Chapters 4 and 5 offer a good review of the changes that have undermined the US investment in basic science and innovation. However, Estrin does not take into consideration that the legislative and management changes happened for a reason. This gives the reader that she is dismissive of developments outside of her interest in basic science or the context facing the country at large.

This is unfortunate as it undermines the support of conscientious readers who are looking for a path forward. The book can give a reader the view that Estrin believes that we should suborned society's needs to the scientific community, their interests and pursuits as they are more important and above the rest of society. They should play by different rules, be less accountable for their actions and the resources allocated to them in the belief that they will do the right thing.

While Estrin lays out four major challenges "moon shots" as goals for scientific investment, she provides limited specific recommendations. By the way the moon shots are healthcare, climate change, security, and energy.

It would have been more helpful if Estrin would have talked about the types of investment in technology and science would help address illiteracy, poverty, inequality, etc.

This is particularly important for policy makers as the west coast/silicon valley innovation ecosystem creates significant inequality in the distribution of wealth where society invests in basic research, but the applied sciences/ business/VCs reap the rewards. I would have been very interested in understanding how Estrin looks to address those issues but the book does not go into that detail.

Recommended reading for people who are having conversations about public policy and the issues we face. If you were looking to make your company more innovative I would strongly recommend the following books:

Mastering the Hype Cycle from Raskino and Fenn - the book provided detailed frameworks and processes for managing technology led innovation.

What's Next by Clayton Christensen - the book talks about how to look at future innovations.

Game Changer which tells the story of P&G's open innovation process.
19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Greatest Business Book In a Generation 27 Aug. 2008
By Charles G. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not since Tom Peters wrote "In Search of Excellence" in 1983 has a book this good been written about how to achieve success in American business. In between, has been a succession of OTHER books containing one or two very basic ideas written in a creative way to fill up a book, written for a dumbed down audience, that could have been summarized in a sentence or two. THIS book breaks that mold and finally brings forward information about companies, most of whom are absolutely minting money, who achieved success through innovation, and what it takes to get there. And, like In search of Excellence, it's written in an intelligent style, yet one that anyone can understand.

The companies that had been successful since Tom Peters wrote his groundbreaking book understand what it takes to foster innovation and go about achieving it in a profitable manner. Among the many companies the authoro looks at, Pixar is investigated, as is Google, a seemingly one-hit wonder, that, in fact, had to bring many innovative concepts to the market before it was unable to unlock the billions in value it has today. Not only did Google have to solve a search problem, and keep people from gaming their system, they had to come up with a system to allow advertisers to take advantage of the search results (Google's Ad Sense System) and they also had to build an unparalleled computer network to gather, organize and bring back those amazingly accurate search results from among the vast internet in a blink of an eye (Google's so called "cloud computing system").

The understanding of the innovative processes led Pixar, Google and many others to continue to innovate to achieve their amazing financial success where other companies, ever driven to achieve quick results that could be flipped to another company for a quick, but tiny, profit, would have given up long before that process was complete. Both of those two companies were unsuccessful for more than 5 years before they finally unlocked the value they had been working towards.

This book pulls apart and analyzes the innovation techniques of companies large and small, both the successes and the failures, and what it took to learn from those failures, and even why failures are an important part of the innovative process. The author is probably the only person in America who could have written such a book because she has started and sold a number of companies, and has driven the process of innovation at other companies, and she knows just about every successful innovator in the technology industry for the last 30 years.

Not only are the successes analyzed, but so are the failures. Quicken had a string of failures in addition to their successes, and the author identifies what caused the difference between the successes and failures.

This book is not only a must read for engineering managers at every company, but also the business and finance people who can frequently lead them in the wrong direction by demanding the wrong results at inappropriate times, or failing to support a process that can take much longer than anyone expects.

Additionally, any politician and policy maker will want to understand this process. There hasn't been another Pixar or Google started in the last ten years. Why is that and what have the incentives done to the process of innovation in the country? All of that gets answered in this one book.

The book is the opposite of most other business books: instead of one or two very basic ideas spread out over the whole book and repeated endlessly, there are 5 ideas on every page, each supported before the author moves on. Where the other books are largely a waste of time for an intelligent person, this book is packed FULL of great ideas.

Only once in a generation do you get to have access to this much information in this short of a read. This is that book. What Tom Peters did a generation ago has now been duplicated by a book that dives into innovation the way Tom Peters picked apart the process of achieving excellence so many years ago. There was only one person who could have written it so well.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
compelling wake-up call for America with actionable ideas 2 Sept. 2008
By Ruby's Mom - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Judy Estrin has done a terrific job of tackling a difficult subject and making it digestible without `dumbing down' the issues or the proposed solutions. I also found it a very enjoyable read (although of course it is not a feel-good subject.) Ms. Estrin makes compelling points about the need to improve our educational system as well as fund basic research, bringing in relevant data and results of prior initiatives, as well as weaving in commentary from scores of other highly respected and knowledgeable people. This book is a wake-up call for America, with ideas for both bottom-up as well as top-down action. Highly recommended.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
An Interesting History Lesson 27 Feb. 2009
By Mark C. Howell - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If there's an upside and a downside to everything...the upside of Closing the Innovation Gap is that author Judy Estrin's vast experience in the innovation scene comes through loud and clear. As a hands-on participant in an unprecedented season of innovation, she had not only a bird's eye view, but was right in the mix. Her stories have an eye witness quality.

The downside? There's very little in the way of practical takeaway if you're hoping to pick up a "to do" list.

Is it helpful? Yes, but not as a manual of action. Read as an overview of the topic, it's great.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
How to establish and then sustain a healthy innovation ecosystem 8 Sept. 2008
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
If I fully understand Judy Estrin's key points (and I may not), there are at least two "gaps" that need to be reduced, if not closed: between where innovation in the US once was and where it is now as well as between where innovation in the US is now and where it could (and should) be. One of the important - and most useful -- terms on her book is "innovation ecosystem." In an Introduction that really should be read 2-3 times before embarking on the first of eight chapters, Estrin observes that "Biological ecosystems that sustain life are models for the organizations, people, and forces that enable innovation. Life flourishes because of a dynamic interaction between communities of living organisms and their environment...In Innovation Ecosystems, the collaborative organisms include scientists, product developers, businesspeople, service providers, and customers, all of whom participate in one or more of three communities: research, development, and application. Ongoing- sustainable innovation results from interactions between [and among] these communities at an organizational, national, and global level."

Contrary to appearances that suggest that the American Ecosystem is stable and secure, Estrin asserts, "we are rapidly losing our advantage." Who are "we"? America, of course, but the
"we" could also refer to the reader and her or his associates in the same organization or to everyone on Earth. So it can be argued that, in fact, there are three (rather than two) "gaps" to be reduced, if not closed, and the third exists on a global basis. That is, there is an innovation gap between what is now being achieved worldwide, and, what could be achieved if communication, cooperation, and (most important of all) collaboration between and among nations were more effective and productive.

Others have their own reasons for holding this book in such high regard. Here are three of mine. First, Estrin makes it crystal clear early on and frequently thereafter that she does not have all the right answers. One of her objectives, rather, is to raise many of what she considers to be the right questions about innovation initiatives in research, development, and application, then to provide her own answer to each. Questions such as these:

1. What is a healthy Innovation Ecosystem?
2. How to establish one? How to sustain it?
3. Meanwhile, how to accommodate immediate and short-term needs?
4. What is "green-thumb leadership" and why is it essential to sustainable innovation?
5. What will an "enormous global transformation require"?

As indicated earlier, Estrin provides her own responses to these and other questions, supplemented by real-world examples of noteworthy initiatives at companies such as Pixar, FedEx, Cisco Systems, Genomic Health, eBay, Apple Computer, Google, Intel, and Procter & Gamble.

I also appreciate the fact that Estrin conducted in-depth interviews of more than 100 of the most important authorities in the field of innovation, then included hundreds of observations and opinions from those interviewed. Here's one of several that caught my eye:

"We have no formal procedure. No one has ever had to write a proposal. Anyone can propose a new project or project area at any time. First, we're in brainstorming mode, when all you have to do is build the idea. Then we get critical and evaluate the idea along several dimensions, like risk-reward ratios and how much technology headroom there is. If we do it, will anybody care? If something looks like it's in the sweet spot, and resource requirements are reasonable, we say `Yeh, go do it.'" Peter Hart, Ricoh Innovation Group; group senior vice president, Ricoh Company (Page 121)

These specifics are important to serving Estrin's purposes. Although she offers or cites numerous theories and hypotheses, she is a tireless empiricist as she focuses on what is and isn't happening as well as a relentless pragmatist who is determined to know what does and doesn't work...and to understand why.

Here's the third of several reasons that I hold this review in such high regard. In the eighth and final chapter, she shifts her attention to "Next-Generation Innovators" and the importance, now, of improving the development of young minds. She poses four questions "about the future of education," offers brief comments on the issues each question raises, and then suggests that to find the best answers to these questions, "we will need to try a variety of approaches, ensuring that we collect the right data to assess and adapt while not stifling learning by applying metrics of questionable value. Agreeing with the ancient African proverb that "it takes a village to raise a child," Estrin notes that education does not begin and end in the classroom. "Young people's attitudes are profoundly influenced by the culture at large, and there, too, forces working against the development of future generations of innovators are in play." Quite true.

Perhaps if we view Earth as a "village" rather than as a planet, and perhaps if we can somehow tackle various challenges together, global collaboration can achieve and then sustain an Innovation Ecosystem within which there will continue to be necessary changes "at both disruptive and incremental levels" and meanwhile remember that "failure can be just another step toward success" and that if everyone involved is determined "to honestly self-assess and learn from every experience." Judy Estrin offers a bold vision in this book, to be sure, but also offers a wealth of information and insights to make that reality for us, perhaps, but certainly for generations to come.
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