The innovation race

By ANDREW AND GAIA GRANT

“The Innovation Race: How to Change a Culture to Change the Game” is more than a mere book about innovative techniques; it is a powerful analysis of changes in our world. It gives the reader a world view of the expanded possibilities within our technologically-integrated globe.

Written by Andrew and Gaia Grant, the book is big read and well worth the effort. It’s not a typical can-do manual where you dig for points and apply them. Instead, it takes incremental readings to process. It conceptualizes innovations, examining why they are needed and why there is often resistance to innovation and change.

The authors give examples of places and cultures that were physically or culturally-isolated yet innovated within their space to overcome barriers to survive and to thrive. We also learn of flat wastelands of abundance where populations squander resources that are plentiful and innovations and change are seen as threats to the status quo.

Two excellent examples of successful innovations are landlocked Switzerland and the tiny city state of Singapore. Both are resource-poor areas that required change and innovation to survive and thrive. Switzerland has little arable land and Singapore was marginalized even to the point of needing to import its own drinking water. Yet, in spite of their geographic limitations, both have become modern innovation miracles and are among the most prosperous countries in the world. In fact, the United Nations ranks Switzerland as one of the happiest countries in the world.

We can compress the extensive chapters and lessons in this book by learning how businesses, nonprofits and even layers of government agencies or governments can use these country examples to create their own innovative strategies.

Both countries are diverse in culture and languages. They use their diversity as treasures to integrate and innovate. Switzerland has three main languages including French, German and Italian, plus the common use of English for commerce. Singapore on the other hand has three distinct ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay and Indian. While Switzerland is an open democracy, Singapore is an authoritarian democracy with strict behavioral guidelines. Both cultures are progressive and respectfully egalitarian. Both stress integration, with Singapore adamantly avoiding zoning that would cluster segregation. Integration of ethnic groups is an important strategy to stimulate interaction and collaboration on a daily basis.

With these examples, the authors suggest that organizations need to develop cultures that integrate diversity and remind us that diversity is rich if its complexity goes beyond superficial visible diversity, as is often the case in the United States where visible differences are mainly considered as diversity.

Furthermore, conformity may wrongfully be celebrated as collaboration. The book stresses that innovative cultures manage diversity by taking care to remove groupthink and sameness. Creativity thrives in managed openness where conflicts are seen as a normal process of collaboration and a movement to transformative thinking. Innovative cultures encourage freedom of expression within the context of civility and collaboration.

I recommend the book to all who want to understand the power of innovation for organizational survival and planned change. The book challenges lazy thinking and outdated mental models.

Lucia Worthington is a professor of business and management at Clark College. To recommend a book for review, email bookreviews@vbjusa.com.

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