What's the Big Idea?
by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak with H. James Wilson
Harvard Business School Press
229 pages

New ideas about management come and go. To choose the right one for an organization, managers must wade through the hype and fads to pinpoint the idea that meets their needs. Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak performed a study of dozens of "idea practitioners" -- those who champion new ideas within their organizations -- and have combined the results with their extensive consulting, academic and business experiences to determine where the best new ideas can be found and how they can be developed.

The new ideas in What's the Big Idea? are the different approaches to improving business performance and management advanced over the years -- from total quality management, worker empowerment and reengineering to knowledge management, activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, and so forth. The authors point out that the companies that sell idea-oriented products and services should be especially focused on idea practitioners, because they are their primary customers and influencers for other buyers.

Avoiding Fads, Improving Initiatives

What's the Big Idea? also provides a set of tools and frameworks to help idea practitioners decide which ideas are the right ones to pursue, how fads can be avoided, how others can be brought in to improve initiatives, and how true change can be implemented.

New ideas, when they are well executed, can inspire and bring new energy to employees, increase organizational vitality and renewal, and motivate organizational change that can help an organization adapt to its environment. The authors write that business ideas:

1. Improve, or try to improve organizational performance. Although this might not always work, improving cost, cycle time, financial performance, market share, etc. are what new business ideas can deliver.

2. Provide legitimacy. When a business tries to implement new business ideas, this indicates that an organization and the individuals within it are attempting to improve their business, even if they are unsuccessful.

A Growing Trend

The time is right to focus on idea management because companies in sophisticated economies must be able to offer "solutions," rather than only products, write the authors. These solutions tend to be bundles of products, services and ideas that together can solve business problems. Since ideas are often used to differentiate services in general, idea practitioners are more important now than ever to help organizations capitalize on this growing trend.

For example, when copiers and other office equipment began to become commoditized, idea practitioner Dan Holtshouse helped Xerox remake itself into "The Document Company." One implication of the document-company idea was that the company began to offer document processing services to corporate clients. This service, which embraces the concept of uncovering strategic ideas, is one of Xerox's most successful businesses.

The authors also point out the problems that can arise when ideas go wrong or become faddish. In addition, the authors offer practical approaches and detailed case studies to help managers sell ideas into their own firms.

Why We Like This Book

The numerous case studies included in What's the Big Idea? make it a fascinating and informative book about knowledge management and the importance of new ideas in the current business environment. Along with a careful examination of the ideas and idea practitioners that have changed the focus of numerous companies and improved their businesses, a detailed interview with celebrated idea guru Steve Kerr provides inspiration for future idea leaders and practitioners.

Copyright © 2003 Soundview Executive Book Summaries