The Sources of Innovation, review

I´ve recently read “The Sources of Innovation”, from Eric von Hippel (its free to download at his website and can be bought at ) and despite not being all that recent (1988) it is really something I recommend. Especially if you are after a structured view on innovation, his academic research can be good medicine against some of the more superficial talk on the topic. Eric von Hippel is “(…)a Professor of Technological Innovation in the MIT Sloan School of Management, and also a Professor in MIT´s Engineering Systems Division” specialized on “research related to the nature and economics of distributed and open innovation. (…) developing and teaching about practical methods that individuals, open user communities, and firms can apply to improve their product and service development processes”.

You get the point.

Even if the basic premise of the book (product innovations are often accomplished not by product manufacturers, but by users and suppliers) is not entirely new in the current days, it is very well explained and defined. You get to understand the economics of the innovation process, and some hard data is given to underline how fitting the model seems to be.

This work deals with different levels of innovation management, from managerial to policy making and for me it was an excellent primer on innovation management. Its age and enduring relevance lead me to believe that it’s a good place to start looking for some formal knowledge on the topic

A quick overview of the topics you will find:
– The Functional Source of Innovation (In a given product innovation, who is responsible for it. Producers, Suppliers or Users? Or a combination of more than one?)

– Variations in the Source of Innovation (How does the model apply to different industries, markets, business cultures, etc)

– An Economic Explanation (The simplest and most efficient way to predict who will be engaged in a given product innovation. Basically, it will be the stakeholder that extracts the biggest economic benefit. I am, naturally oversimplifying this…)

– Understanding The Distributed Innovation Process: Know-How trading between rivals (how and why do seemingly rival firms trade information between each other. Good introduction to the distributed nature of the innovation process)

– Managing the Distributed Innovation Process: Predicting and Shifting the Sources of Innovation (How to influence how distributed innovation happens and how to manage for it. Probably the most hands-on section of the book)

– Implications for Innovation Research (How do the Functional Source of Innovation model and the Distributed Innovation Process hypothesis influence where to look next at in future research)

– Implications for Innovation Management (What are the new considerations for Innovation managers. What to experiment with)

– Implications for Innovation Policy (at the highest level, how can governments and institutions foster and support innovation, in the light of the new information)

Bottom line, if you are trying to advocate for open innovation, this has some real-life stories, backed by scientific data. Can’t get much better than that. Oh, its free.