Where is the Idea?
Let me begin this book review with a confession. When I received my copy of the book a few weeks ago, I began reading it in all earnest. I wanted to be an early bird in sending in my review. The slimness of the book (170 pages) was an added attraction. However, as it often happens, the book along with other ‘must reads’ got parked in the corner shelf, to be ‘dealt with’ later.
Yesterday, when I began reading it again I asked myself, “Alok, given the very powerful title of this book, what do you remember of the first 22 pages that you had read?”
My mind seized; my brain cells overheated and my memory began to play tricks on me. Alas, the answer was ‘nothing’ – a ‘404’ in web entrepreneurs’ jargon. Something was not quite right.
‘Beyond the Idea’ is uninspiring, insipid and quite frustrating. If you have read Haruki Murakami, this book mimics his signature style of ‘keeping you waiting’. Alas, in ‘Beyond the Idea’, nothing happens after the wait.
As an entrepreneur, the concept of Going Beyond Ideas is very close to my heart. Most digital entrepreneurs have zillions of ideas but hardly do anything beyond fantasizing about the implementation. Hence when this book came along, my heart leapt - I thought I would find the secret of making things happen, inside.
The authors Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble (both professors at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth) apply an extremely academic and boring method in attempting to solve what is one of the greatest challenges of modern day entrepreneurs and companies.
The book very early states that “Beyond the Idea is about project management…”
Huh? Ideas become projects only if they are truly worth pursuing. But the pain, the inertia, the guts and the glory really lies in making decisions of converting an idea into a project!
The book is dominated by Chapters called ‘Model S’, ‘Model R’ and ‘Model C’. Frankly speaking, components of each of these models sound just as mundane and theoretical with labels such as ‘The Key to Model S is Project Excellence’, ‘Divide the Labour’, ‘Assemble the Dedicated Team’, etc
What I really miss in this book are examples! Given the professors’ extensive backgrounds and the eminent school that they are associated with, I am surprised at the complete lack of live, real, familiar business cases studies in the book.
Imagine if the case of the Smart (car) or the Swatch or even the ubiquitous yellow ‘Sticky Notes’ (one of the greatest examples of an ‘idea-turned-business’), - was elaborated in this book – it would have then set all theoretical explanations of Models S, R, C, etc in a real world context!
The book is stuffed with academic charts that increasingly look confusing as the pages progress. For some reason the authors have chosen to ‘chartify’ simple plain sentences; and in the process made the central point even more confusing.
A couple of analogies in the book amused me. One of them states, “It's like Mars trying to get along with Venus” – in the context of making teams get along! Did the authors mean Men or Women or actually the planets?! No one told me that the planets had a problem with each other…!
Another analogy screams, “…This is akin to imagining that the hammer and the nail will work out their differences…”! Excuse me? Did the hammer and nail have differences? Maybe professors Govindarajan and Trimble think so. To entrepreneurs like me, a hammer and a nail are ‘partners’ who get the job done!
Having said this, the book is sprinkled with some nice surprises and concepts. “Doing is so difficult” in Chapter 1 (Model S) sounds so Zen! The reference to the “Lake Wobegon Effect” is enlightening. The idea that “The innovation leader must report to at least two levels higher in the hierarchy than his budget” is a delightful insight! I especially liked the introspection on Excel Sheets and found the explanation of how they (excel sheets) “hide assumptions”, “focus attention on the wrong place” and “create an illusion of precision”.
However, ramblings such as, “creating some degree of familiarity between the Dedicated Team and Shared Staff can help sooth tensions” sounds almost juvenile in a book of this stature. Is this something that professors need to teach and preach? I wonder who the target audience is perceived for this book…?
What got me all worked up was the statement “If this year’s innovation initiative destroys someone’s career, nobody will sign up from next year”.
Plain wrong. Innovation IS about destruction, mayhem and disruption; and that is the outcome of the Best Ideas of the World. I have not heard of extremely motivated, enterprising and inspired individuals worried about how their ideas or the implementation would ruin their careers! I believe the contrary – it’s exactly these people - those who see a great idea through, from inception to ideation, eventually are the ones who actually enjoy the greatest careers in the world!
Overall, a disappointing and missable book.