If you’re looking for the place where the very divergent mindsets of corporate strategy and startup dogma meet around the back end of the “horseshoe,” you may want to try Creative Construction, by Prof. Gary Pisano of the Harvard Business School.

Creative Construction is another in the long series of books by HBS profs who seek to turn their scholarship and private consulting into books of practical advice aimed at workaday businesspeople. Normally I hold limited expectations for such titles, but Pisano is someone I’ve been following since his excellent work with his colleague Prof. Willy Shih on America’s loss of manufacturing supply chains and the impact on our national innovation capacity. 

Creative Construction presents a very nice exposition of why large businesses that genuinely want to be innovative often fail despite the best intentions, and then the book suggests how they can do better. With a title that plays on Schumpeter’s famous coinage “creative destruction,” but also phonically on the word “disruption” as used in the last decade by his HBS colleague Prof. Clayton ChristensenCreative Construction lays out a three-part agenda for executives in “Big Corp” (my term, not his): creating an innovation strategy, designing a system to support that strategy, and building a culture that makes it all more than just words.

Since “disruption” has become the mantra of venture-capital-backed startups, I wondered whether there would be overlap between Pisano’s argument and the guiding principles of the startup world. Surprisingly, though, the book’s index includes no explicit reference to several canonical works in the literature of practical advice on startups: Eric Ries’s The Lean Startup; Alex Osterwalder’s Business Model Generation and Business Model Canvas; and most especially Steve Blank’s The Four Steps to the Epiphany and The Startup Owner’s Manual. And yet, despite the lack of explicit reference, the reader with feet in both camps (for example, investors or bankers) will find important points of connectivity. 

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MTA Genius Transit Challenge logoThe winners are announced and the reviews are in for the MTA Genius Transit Challenge, a state-funded prize intended to spur innovation in the increasingly troubled NYC subways. Even at the time of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s initial announcement, the prize was mocked as trite symbolism not especially relevant to the system’s short-term needs. Once the winners were known, the judgment of non-government experts like Alon Levy and Benjamin Kabak was little kinder. I have no reason to quarrel with the judgment of the Internet’s top transit commentators, and yet I feel that the Governor’s initiative still contains the kernel of an idea worth pursuing as an economic-development initiative, if not the most-direct path to improvement of subway operations.

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Word came recently, via one of those catch-up obituaries in The New York Times, of the passing of Bob Allen, who had been the chairman and CEO of AT&T during a time of merciless transition in the telecom industry during the 1980s and 1990s.

I have a reminiscence to offer, not as a criticism of Allen, who by all accounts was a decent man and strove mightily to reinvent AT&T in the wake of the forced 1984 divestiture of the regional operating companies, but to underline an example of “innovator’s dilemma” with which I had direct experience.

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