Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail

November 20, 2013 — 1 Comment

9780310494508Larry Osborne, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, October 2013. 176 pp. Hardcover, $18.99

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Thanks to Zondervan for the review copy!

Larry Osborne is senior pastor at North Coast Church in northern San Diego County. His church is widely recognized as one of the most influential and innovative churches in America (e.g. they were doing multi-site before pretty much anyone else). He has written numerous books, one of which, Accidental Pharisees, I read very recently (and you should too).

Because of that, I was interested to jump in on a blog tour for his most recent book, Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret: Why Serial Innovators Succeed Where Others Fail. Though it is outside of my normal range of book subjects, that’s only been true in the recent past. Back in the day (a.k.a. early college), I actually read a lot of leadership related book, and I probably will slowly start returning more of them to my reading queue.

But, that is neither here nor there.

As for Osborne’s book, he thankfully spills the dirty little secret right off the bat: most innovations fail (17). In fact, this is even the title of the first chapter, so right from the get go, he lets you in on the secret and then progressively explains why that is the case and what you can do about it.

The book is split into 21 chapters across 7 parts, but it is still fairly short (just over 170 pp., and a small sized book). A dedicated readers could knock this out in a Saturday afternoon, but thinking through the implications (depending on what you do in life) could take a lot longer.

The first part, after spilling the secret, explains why you need to have an exit strategy for your innovative endeavors. This is somewhat common-sensical, but the devastating effects of an innovation gone wrong underscores that often people put all their eggs in the innovative new basket. To remedy that, Osborne explains why the exit strategy is just as important as the game plan (chapter 4) and that serial innovators can expect that most of their ideas won’t get off the ground (chapter 3). This is all based on the previous chapters’ points that failure is fairly normal for leaders (chapter 1) and that many such leaders are “unconscious competents,” which means they are intuitively good at certain things and can’t always transmit that knowledge to others following them (chapter 2).

With this foundation in place, part two explains how you can ignite innovation (and takes two chapters to do it), while part three is on accelerating innovations. The first chapter in this part (chapter 7) is a good reminder on the importance of mission statements, noting that clarity of mission helps screen which innovations to ultimately pursue. Likewise, innovations should be actionable (chapter 8), and will benefit from having a respected leader back them, rather than having to float on their own intrinsic merits (chapter 9). Even with all this in place, it is wise to plan out everything in metaphorical pencil (chapter 10).

Part four takes readers into more detail about how innovations can fail, specifically at the hands of sabotage. Chapter 11 is a tale of the long term effects of losing your credibility and trust from followers (kind of ironic), while chapters 12 and 13 explains the dangers of group think (12), and the pointlessness of surveys (13). Chapter 14 rounds out the section by explaining the danger of dwelling too much past successes.

Part five returns to constructive advice (as opposed to constructive cautions) and focuses on how to break through walls of the status quo (chapter 15). Chapter 16 extols the value of advisers, while 17 deals with the nature of expectations and how to navigate them when they are unrealistic. Chapter 18 covers the ever important subject of tradition and move into new territory without alienating those who value “the way we’ve always done it.”

The final two parts of the book focus on the importance of vision and how to sustain it (part 6), as well as what a legacy of innovation could look like (part 7). They provide a fitting conclusion to the book, and seem aimed at capturing the imagination of readers in order to motivate them to aspire to the type of innovative leadership that Osborne is known for.

Since the first book by Osborne I read was more on spiritual growth, I came in without any real preconceived idea about his thoughts on leadership. After reading this, I’m interested to check out a few of his others books on the subject. He writers in a very conversational style, and though he doesn’t directly ground everything he says in Scripture, you can sense that he has a high view of the sufficiency of Scripture and he is just unpacking the brass tacks of what it does on leadership and vision.

On the whole, I would recommend this book to anyone who typically likes books on leadership, but specifically to people who are on the creative end of the spectrum and want to have short primer on how to integrate their creativity and vision into their leadership roles without some of the negative side effects that can come with the marriage of those things. Really though, if you’re in any kind of leadership role in work or church or elsewhere, you’ll probably benefit from Osborne’s wisdom for effectively thinking outside the box.


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I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

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  1. Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret Blog Tour | Cross Focused Reviews - November 23, 2013

    […] probably benefit from Osborne’s wisdom for effectively thinking outside the box.” Reviewer: Nate Claiborne ( Rating: 4 […]

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