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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 September 2005
For many who read this book, it may well be a "surprising truth" that innovation succeeds "not by breaking free from constraints of the past but instead by harnessing the past in powerful new ways." I am among those who agree with the prophet Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun; also with the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who asserted that everything changes...but nothing changes. I also agree with Hargadon's emphasis on the importance of an innovation strategy which seeks to take full advantage of what can be learned from the past inorder to create the future. His core concept is "technology brokering" which he introduces and then rigorously examines in Part I; next, in Part II, he describes the "networked perspective" of innovation, explaining how this strategy influences the innovative process within organizations, regardless of their size and nature; finally, in Part III, Hargadon provides specific and practical examples of how various organizations have designed and then implemented technology brokering strategies. Throughout the narrative, Hargadon explores in depth with rigor and eloquence his core premise: "that breakthrough innovation comes by recombining the people, ideas, and objects of past technologies."
In this context, I am reminded of what Carla O'Dell asserts in If We Only Knew What We Know when discussing what she calls "beds of knowledge" which are "hidden resources of intelligence that exist in almost every organization, relatively untapped and unmined." She suggests all manner of effective strategies to "tap into "this hidden asset, capturing it, organizing it, transferring it, and using it to create customer value, operational excellence, and product innovation -- all the while increasing profits and effectiveness." Almost all organizations claim that their "most valuable assets walk out the door at the end of each business day." That is correct. Almost all intellectual "capital" is stored between two ears and much (too much) of it is, for whatever reasons, inaccessible to others except in "small change....there is no conclusion to managing knowledge and transferring best practices. It is a race without a finishing line."
I think this is precisely what Hargadon has in mind when insisting that the future is already here, that the "raw materials for the next breakthrough technology may [also] be already here [but probably] without assembly instructions," that decision-makers must find their "discomfort zones" rather than remain hostage to what Jim O'Toole calls "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom," and that they should build a "bridge" to their own strengths but also to their weaknesses because, as they perform, so will their organization. I agree with Hargadon that innovation must unfold at the ground level, "in the minds and hearts of the engineers and entrepreneurs who are doing the work." Also, that -- meanwhile -- they and their associates must be guided and informed, not only by their own organization's "beds of knowledge" but also by external sources of information concerning prior successes and failures of the innovation process elsewhere. In the final analysis, there is good news and bad news. First the bad news: "New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone." Now the good news: "New ideas are built from the pieces of old ones, and nobody works alone."
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on 19 March 2005
This is an insightful study of how many of the last century's major innovations occurred. The first section looks at the role of social networks in enabling innovation and the linkages between creativity and technology. The second half explores the role of 'technology brokering' bringing together previously disparate ideas and bridging between different areas to create the key components for a fundamental innovation. Examples include Ford, Reebok, Xbox, 3M and IDEO
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on 19 September 2008
The main premise of this book is often what we know as innovation is actually the combination of previously known ideas or concepts. Often these pre-existing ideas will originate outside of the innovator's sphere of knowledge or emerge from an altogether different market or sector. Hargadon uses insights from social networks to explain how these events occur in the real world. For me, this provides a profound insight into understanding the so called "accidental" discoveries that seem to litter the world of innovation. Once we have an understanding of how these events occur, we stand a much better chance of being able to recognise them and support their outcomes. The second part of the book explores how this understanding can be applied in practice - whether you are a consultancy providing innovation to others or a large organisation trying to promote innovation from within.

I think the best way of reading this book is to read it AFTER reading about how innovation occurs in the field. This way you will be able to recognise some of the behaviour that has been described elsewhere. Try any of the books that describe how IDEO work (e.g. Tom Kelley's The art of Innovation or Jeremy Myerson's IDEO: Masters of Innovation) or the biography of a famous inventor (e.g. Randall Stross's biography of Thomas Edison, The Wizard of Menlo Park).

For me, this book provided the "missing link" in trying to understand how innovation occurs in the real world. Highly recommended to anyone interested in innovation.
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on 11 December 2013
Interesting view and worth a couple read. Worth a good review and potential use in the modern constantly changing world.
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on 11 August 2014
The author shows his lack of research in once again giving credit to Edison for the light bulb. Yes he did make one and yes there were many previous attempts so it was a progressive invention. But the first truly successful one in a working environment that lasted was made by Sir Joseph Swan. Americans seem determined to write him out of history. He was perhaps the greatest scientist of the 19thC -Incandescent Electric Lamp, Photography, Artificial Silk which his wife crocheted into the first lace mat which led on to the film industry.

As for the roles of geniuses in discoveries it is very easy for us with ordinary minds to believe ex post facto that perhaps anyone can do this or that. The simple truth is it needs that genius spark. Yes often built on previous work - we don't work in a vacuum but some are real paradigm shifts: I would think perhaps The Chip, Lasers, Archimedes and density, some of Einstein's work etc. Yes we are all geniuses with hindsight. Look at a couple of things still to be invented - Time Travel and batteries for mobiles that last a month or two. When the brilliant scientists invent these [eventually] the scoffers will appear claiming how easy it is. Why did some inventions take thousands of years to flower after the initial discovery? All the clues were there for electricity a couple of millennia ago. (~600BC Electrostatics). Then in the 1800's came Volta (battery) and Faraday (electric motor). Big gap: waiting for that 'spark'(sic); obviously
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