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The downturns silver lining

Ross O. Storey | June 9, 2009
Why innovation thrives in difficult times

One of the many things I love about my challenging job is the opportunities I get to meet smart people and to share ideas with them. Last week was a good example, when I did an e-mail interview with Scott Anthony, who is president of Innosight LLC, a consulting and investing company with offices in Boston, Baltimore, Singapore, and India.

Scott has just released a new book The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times, published by Harvard Business Press. Its underlying premise is that the current economic downturn is, in fact, a blessing in disguise to many entrepreneurs and innovators, who can tend to become lazy, satisfied and complacent when times are good, as they had been for some years leading up to the financial crisis.

Communicating with Scott brought to mind the old homily which states that if you want something done, give it to a busy man (or woman). After talking to his publishers, I contacted Scott via e-mail and was surprised to have him respond within a couple of hours, to my list of questions.

And the answers were concise, intelligent and interesting; what youd expect from a professional writer and researcher. I e-mailed a thank you, and he almost immediately e-mailed back, saying that he was waiting at an airport and had responded to my questions while he was in transit. Scott is obviously a man who does not waste time. I only wish that this promptness was an approach followed by many more of our interview subjects, because it would make a publishers life a lot easier.

The problem with abundance

In Scotts view, the root cause of many corporate struggles with innovation is abundance. Too much time. Too much money. Too much patience. He argues that scarcity and discipline will force innovators to do what they should have been doing already starting small, learning quickly, and changing course quickly.

He says the key is to recognise that innovation has flourished no matter how dark the time. Apple launched the iPod in October 2001. IBM launched its PC in the early 1980s. Microsoft was formed in 1975. Hewlett-Packard was born the Great Depression. More than half of the companies that are components of the Dow Jones Industrial average that were formed after 1850, were formed in a year featuring a recession.

So his point is, which will be the global companies that take the opportunity provided by this current financial trough, to excel and stamp their influence? Which IT companies will historians of the future be describing as having been borne out of the recession of 2009?

I found Scotts discussion very interesting and you can read the complete Q&A interview in the forthcoming edition of MIS Asia magazine, which will hit desks early in July. For those of you who prefer your information in a digital flavour, Scotts interview will also be posted on our Web portal,, about the time the hard copy is printed.


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