May 24, 2006
Staff Picks: Dealing With Darwin Review by Kurt B
By Geoffrey Moore, Portfolio, December 2005
Moore continues the theme from his previous books of analyzing different stages of a company's (or product line's) life and the corresponding appropriate product development and marketing strategies. Once again he demonstrates he has given this concept more thought than most. It is probably important to point out that the subtitle "How great companies innovate . . ." uses "how" more in the sense of what path they take, rather than "how" in the sense of this is the way they make it happen. This is a book about strategy, not execution. Similarly confusing titles are the on chapters "Managing Innovation in . . ." as these chapters are much more about setting your innovation strategy than they are about the activities typically considered "managing". This was somewhat disappointing - while he goes to great lengths to convince you that you should be thinking about innovation at all stages (which obviously isn't a tough case to make), and helping you think through various ways you might innovate, he gives little attention to how you actually make it happen. Maybe that will be his next book. I also would have liked to see more regarding the economics of innovation.
Occasionally he cautions readers not to over invest in innovation, but most of the book is written as "more is better, and even more is even better", and there is very little analysis of how to determine the appropriate innovation investment level.
The book is well written and engaging - not too deep into academic theory, with some meaningful original thought and substance. Others have commented about his use of "core" and "context" to describe aspects of the value proposition, and I have to agree that the concept seems sound, but these terms are confusing (particularly context). Jump to the third part of the book early on and you will have a much better understanding of these two concepts, and you will also get to one of the most important if not most original parts of the book. This section provides great context (a la Webster, not Moore) for much of the rest of the book so I think it unfortunate that it was relegated to that outback that in most business books is just fluff and padding. I didn't find the Cisco case study to be too engaging for some reason, though it seemed like a good idea at the outset. At some points I felt he was trying to make the case fit the point, and at others I would have liked to see how several other (maybe even non-tech) companies dealt with the same issues.
His experience in a tech product environment is obvious throughout the book, though whether this is good or bad for the reader depends on whether they are in the tech products industry. If not, they will likely find clichs such as how you can't make profits with commodity products to be somewhat esoteric (Exxon booked $8.5 billion in profits in Q1 - not bad for a commodity product) Moores context is almost exclusively tech products. He does occasionally mention that innovation in your business processes, marketing and customer experience can be valuable - though this is mostly just in a couple of pages in the mature company section. Since his previous books focused on the earlier stages of a company's life, I was pleasantly surprised to find the mature company chapter twice as long as the growth company chapter.
If you are a senior executive or a product development person in a tech products company, you will find this book to be invaluable. The further you are from that profile, the more you will have to stretch to apply Moore's very valuable insights.
Reviewed by Kurt B.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.