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Thoughts from a Grumpy Innovator
by Costas Papaikonomou
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Reviewed by: John Walsh

The various forms of social media have transformed communications: with a medium such as Twitter, for example, it has become possible to broadcast one's thoughts (up to no more than 140 characters at a time, of course) with untold thousands of people one might otherwise never meet or encounter in any way. With this great power, of course, as the philosopher Spiderman would undoubtedly remind us, comes great responsibility and this is a responsibility that is not always upheld by Tweeters. However, there are some gems to be unearthed and one of these has been the stream of the corporate innovator Costas Papaikonomou, who has now included his wisdom in the form of this slender book.

Papaikonomou is clearly an expert on innovation and has a number of pointed observations to make on the subject, as well as related issues such as the use of market research, planning meetings, and futurology. His central messages include the impossibility of removing risk entirely from the launch of any new product and the inadvisability of trying to do so, as well as the strange resemblance between those strange people who bang on about their invention which they are convinced will be an enormous success irrespective of all evidence to the contrary and those strange people whose big idea actually is a success. I occasionally used the anecdote of Colonel Sanders who, armed with a military record and a recipe for fried chicken (I believe this story to be true but have not verified it), knocked on the door of one restaurant after another asking if the owner wished to buy his special recipe. After more than a hundred attempts, he was finally successful and now we are treated to his benign smile on the side of every merchandised item of his favourite brand. A useful definition of mental instability is the willingness to continue trying the same thing and expecting a different outcome. In other words, successful and indeed unsuccessful entrepreneurs do not always offer the most salubrious company. Author Papaikonomou has a light touch when making this point but makes it nicely just the same.

The book - it is a book that can be read in a sitting or else spread out to take a couple of tweets at a time - is organized into several different sections, each introduced by a brief essay. These areas include creativity ('beanbags and funny hats'), market research ('modeling madness'), and the life cycle of products ('along the s-curve'). Papaikonomou's wit may be demonstrated in a couple of examples: "Funny hats and beanbags in innovation sessions will help you creatively mess up your hair and wrinkle your trousers (p.24)" and "Make sure to have plenty of sex before an ideation workshop because even if you then have no ideas, you'll still have had plenty of sex (p.22)." There are also some sharp comments made about British airports Heathrow and Gatwick and the various travails and tribulations of international travel and the corporate business life.

The author makes it clear at the beginning of the book that his motivation is primarily the desire to explore the issues of innovation that fascinate him and does not have any particular ability or interest in providing self-help answers or support for the would-be entrepreneur. Instead, the tweets are reproduced in their original form (and one or two could have done with a little editing). Nevertheless, there is plenty here that will be not just thought-provoking but of genuine value to anyone having to deal with the issues of innovation and the need to create and launch new products. A great deal of business these days revolves around innovation and creativity, particularly in the FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) markets most familiar to the author. When I have had cause to teach it, I usually focus on the way that improvements can be borrowed from other fields of endeavour (we have a relaxed attitude towards intellectual property around these parts) but Papaikonomou operates in the very dynamic markets of the west where there is a need for constant development, even if these do not always make it to market. The capitalist system in which we live these days is based on creative destruction and it is only through destroying the past and dissolving the ties between people and their objects that there is space for new products to be successful. As the author observes: "When you're confronted with a stunning competitive market introduction, "how did they do that?" is the least of your worries (p.84)."

This book is a lot of fun - the quirky illustrations and cartoons add to the light-hearted feeling - and contains some interesting and astute observations. Who would have imagined that it would be possible to write a book dominated by tweets one has already made?

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