This book is about why big, established companies should aim to be "Fast Second" rather than pioneers of radically new markets.
The authors challenge the new hypothesis that big firms need to be "ambidextrous" (i.e. able to use either hand with equal skill). An ambidextrous organization has successfully put in place multiple, contradictory structures, processes, and cultures within the same organizational infrastructure. By developing strong shared values and by putting in charge managers capable of managing variety and ambiguity, ambidextrous organizations can successfully balance the conflicting demands that the simultaneous pursuit of being First Mover (or colonizer) and being Fast Second (or consolidator) would place on them.
The skills, competencies, mindsets, and attitudes needed to succeed as a First Mover versus a Fast Second are like chalk and cheese. From First Mover to Fast Second, these are the 16 differences according to the authors:
1. From engineering or technology skills TO marketing, customer segmentation, and retailing skills
2. From emphasis on novelty, quality, and focus on lead users TO understanding of average user needs, good at spotting consensus
3. From young, restless, fascinated with science, technology, and the leading edge TO more interested in making money than in developing the latest technological wonder
4. From roots in science TO commercial roots
5. From focus on technological achievements and creating the best-performing product TO focus on price and quality and willing to settle for a product that is "good enough"
6. From manage information network in science community TO manage network of feeder entrepreneurial firms
7. From entrepreneurs who prefer autonomy and freedom and do not want to work in a big company TO organization people, happy within the structures and constraints of a large organization
8. From fast, agile, risk-taking experiments TO people who defend the existing business and don't take unnecessary risks
9. From entrepreneurial culture TO functional organization, formal management control systems
10. From first, fast mover TO judicious mover
11. From small is beautiful TO need resources to build the brand and distribution
12. From good at management of product design TO mastery of process engineering, procurement expertise, and mass-market management
13. From a culture of innovation and experimentation TO a culture of discipline and cost-control
14. From flexible TO disciplined
15. From short-term oriented TO long-term oriented
16. From fluid structures that allow easy flow of ideas and learning from mistakes TO managed hierarchy, focusing on mass marketing, customer segmentation, and manufacturing excellence
Not only are the necessary skills for each activity different, they also CONFLICT with each other. This means that firms that are good at being First Mover are unlikely to be good at being Fast Second. Looking at the list above, it's obvious that big firms have the skills and mindsets to be good Fast Second market players. Trying to teach them the skills of a First Mover will not usually work because their existing skills conflict with many of the skills they need to develop. Big firms should focus on what they are good at - the consolidation of radical markets into mass markets (Fast Second). They can achieve this by adopting an acquisition or network strategy with young start-up firms.
I got the book from Amazon the other day and finished it last night. It usually takes longer to read a strategy book, but this one is slim with only 170 pages. Being a business development manager, the topic of strategic innovation is very familiar and the arguments are surprisingly clear ... and very thought provoking, indeed. I'll highly recommend this book. It's a bold challenge to the conventional wisdom of the need to build radical innovation competence for big firms. It makes you rethink what you aim for ...
If you're interested in strategic innovation, do also consider Kim & Mauborgne's "Blue Ocean Strategy", Slywotzky's "How to Grow When Markets Don't", and Markides' "All the Right Moves".
MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business