A Cock and Bull Story

A fable about both the need for innovation and the challenges in implementing it.
N. Madhavan        Print Edition: April 28, 2013

How Stella Saved the Farm A Tale About Making Innovation Happen
Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble
Macmillan
Pages: 160
Price: Rs 399

Fables have often been used to drive home strong messages. George Orwell's 1945 classic Animal Farm, for instance, highlighted the dangers of communism. More recently, in 2006, John P. Kotter, an authority on leadership and change management, wrote Our Iceberg Is Melting, a fable emphasising the importance of responding correctly to change in an ever-changing world.

Now, Vijay Govindarajan, the Earl C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business at the Tuck School of Business and an expert on innovation, and Chris Trimble, authors of Reverse Innovation and The Other Side of Innovation, have teamed up again to produce How Stella Saved the Farm, once more about innovation, but using the fable form.

Innovation is a complex subject. Not many companies realise the need for it till it is too late. Take global photographic equipment giant, Kodak, for instance, whose excessive focus on its existing business prevented it from seeing the opportunities opening up in digital photography. The rest, as the cliché goes, is history - Kodak is in the throes of bankruptcy.

But innovation is also much more than just the idea. The innovative idea is only the beginning. How one makes innovation happen is a different challenge. Should it be attempted by the existing workforce alongside its current responsibilities, or should a dedicated team be set up for it? How much focus should there be on innovation in terms of resources - how much of management time and company money should go into it? While innovation secures the future of an organisation, is it possible that in the process of pursuing it, companies could lose sight of the current operations, which are bringing in the money? How does one manage to 'feed the present, and seed the future'? Finally, how does one assess progress in innovation? These are questions senior honchos of every company involved in innovation seek answers to.

The book attempts to answer them through the events at Windsor Farm, which is run entirely by animals. The farm is in the midst of a leadership transition and has embarked on a process of innovation hoping it will help in securing its future, and fight off takeover attempts by other farms run by humans.

But, instead of securing the future, the innovation experiment almost destroys the present by burning cash and creating deep differences within the organisation. How the animals rework their strategy (they do it repeatedly), stumble onto the right approach and finally see success forms the core of the book.

"Parable is a great learning tool. Just about every company grapples with the issues raised in the book," says Govindarajan. "Since it is a fiction, executives think it is not about their own company but some animal farm. They let down their guard and discuss issues in an open and non-defensive way. Sooner or later they realise that all the lessons from the book apply to them."

The book is easy to read and can be finished in a single sitting. The reader comes away from Windsor Farm with a better understanding of innovation and the myths typically surrounding it.

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