Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Innovator's Dilemma

It's that time of the year when the farm starts to fill up with very interesting international guests. Ross Perot and the Loro Piana family have repeat-visited, though they've yet to overlap with my own rather intermittent weekend stays. (I have however managed to meet another regular summer arrival, Nada, the disconcertingly self-assured teenage daughter of the Kuwaiti PM. )

Last night at dinner we were joined by Melinda Merino editor of the Harvard Business School Press. I asked her what her 'greatest hit' has been and she replied that it was unquestionably Clayten M. Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. which had begun life as its author's thesis at HBS. I read it a decade ago and it remains one of the few business books whose ideas remain startlingly vivid and relevant to me today.

Unlike other publishing houses, Melinda explained, HBS Press has an organisational objective over an above profit maximisation: improving management practices worldwide. The money they make is fed back into the business school to fund the research done there. She sees her job as facilitating the uptake of important new commercial ideas which take shape in brilliant, though not necessarily particularly commercial, minds at Harvard.

We went on to discuss how Andrew Keen has been cold-shouldered by the retail trade in the UK (though he has now had one positive American review) and how widespread publicity is no guarantee of strong sales. Melinda cited Off-ramps and On-ramps by Sylvia Ann Hewlett as an example of how the pre-publication hype can be rather deceptive.

At the head of the table we'd seated Fanny, a strikingly poised fourteen-year-old Italian girl, with curly dark-blonde hair and near-perfect English learned at an English school in her home town of Milan. We were coaxing her through her first Yorkshire puddings.

Other than that the main topic of conversation was the way the reassuring competence of our new Prime Minister is being thrown into sharp relief by the recent activities of some of the world's least competent Jihadists.

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