Basically, the paper tries to show that innovation, as many people have previously viewed it, is not an object but rather an information process that is transformed into tangible products that meet peoples needs. By this view, the innovation process considers the human being as the creators of information that is concretized in products.
The authors suggest that the two most important steps in the innovation process are the problem creation moment and the creation of the information to solve it. However, not all information is the best for an innovative process to be successful. It has to be semantic in nature, meaning that the information has to have the ability to evolve and transform. It is this type of information that allows reorganization and reconceptualization, two factors that enable any firm to constantly create new strategies, marketing, and even new product.
To better argue their postulation, the authors have comprehensively dissected the two renowned firms, Apple Inc. and Canon, for their innovations. They have intentionally analyzed the two firms because, though they have succeeded in creating self-renewal companies, the information creation among the two are different. In Canon case, they have narrowed to the creation of the Canon Mini Copier (MC). According to the study, the company in the early 1960s had to diversify into office machines such as the calculators and the copying machines. However, they report that after a short time, the market for their Plain Paper Copier (PPC) saturated and what saved them was the re-conceptualizing of the entire PPC. The first thing in this process was to change the perception of the market and by introducing a smaller copier (Mini Copier), they would be able to access a larger market. After carrying out their feasibility study, they discovered that their main problem was with cost- reliability balance. The new mini copier had to overcome this problem. One of the main points they emphasize in this case is how the managing director went about the issue. He organized camp sessions where the project team composed of production engineers and feasibility team would have heated arguments to discuss ways of overcoming the issue at hand. They highlight that after discovering that 90% of the copier troubles, which they needed to solve for the MC to be viable, were related to the drum, it is through these camp sessions an idea of cartridges emerged. Hiroshi, the feasibility team leader even proposed the idea of disposable beer cans when many of the members of the task force thought the idea of producing drum inexpensively was impossible. The idea enabled the task force to come up with manufacturing methods that would lower the cost of producing these drums (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).
The one aspect of Canon management the authors have emphasized is the role of a leader in the whole innovation process. The article points that, while many organizational structures of the companies at the time were mostly, top-down, the leaders of the MC team were homogeneously integrated into a well-defined hierarchy. They adopted the popular Japanese system, which emphasized on the sense of commitment and purpose to every participant in the project without creating a solo star. This was however different from the case of Apple (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).
Like Canon, Apple experienced difficulties in early 1980 after releasing the Lisa and the Apple III. Steve Jobs took the leadership of the Mac group and embarked on creating a computer that was insanely great. The authors point that first thing he did was to poach members from Apple Lisa and Xerox Parc projects whose knowledge would be greatly required. To show the importance of information created in an innovation process, the authors state that the Mac team did not even have a hint of what the new computer would look. The only basic principle they set out with was, the team effort would concretize the ideas. Jobs had a different approach. He made the group a 25 member of average 28 years meaning this project would be each first major project. The project was a separate entity from the rest of the corporation and it created friction because there was no technological transfer between the group and the rest of the division. This limited the reverberation of the innovation to the rest of the company (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).
They cite that the origin of a music program that could produce four different voices was a suggestion of a nontechnical member and this challenged the hardware and software engineers to spend extra hours designing it. In all these efforts, however, Jobs was the final decision maker. It brought conflict because sometimes he would ignore great ideas because of his preconceptions. Despite these challenges, Jobs played a significant role in setting difficult challenges that completely change the features of a personal computer. For instance, view of the transformative role the telephone had on the society and critical observation convinced him that the new computer should have dimensions of a telephone book. Though it was hard, was especially for the internal layout of the computer, it produced a more compact and distinctive design (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).
The authors have also shown what hinders the creation of the new information. The most common of all is the dependence on the syntactic information-which have been defined as information that can be reduced to mere digital form with no inherent meaning. In a company, this represents information such as the Return on Investment (ROI) and information derived from the profit center analysis. They state the limitation of managing the firm using such information is that; it discourages seeking and even creates new information because it will mess up with the formal channels already in place. A highly divisionalized structure also discourages the creation of new information because the bureaucratic nature of the firm stifles sharing of information among its different parts. Further, most of them adopt the strategy that is confined to, for instance, being number one or meet a specific ROI figure where if a given group does not achieve these goals, they are dropped off without caring about the knowledge of the personnel lost (Nonala & Kenney, 1991).
In the two cases, one important factor that led to these innovations is the induction of chaos. After creating the chaos, the next critical aspect of the innovation process is to provide an environment where new information can be produced. In this environment, the role of a leader is to maximize information creation by acting as a catalyst to help the selected people to realize the vision of the corporation. The management should also ensure that the structure in place is capable of transmitting the newly created information to other divisions of the institution to make the self-renewal and innovation processes part of the institutional culture.
Nonala, I., & Kenney, M. (1991). Towards a new theory of innovation management: A case study comparing Canon, Inc. and Apple Computer, Inc. Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, 8(1), 67-83.
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