Thursday, April 12, 2018

The New Science of Radical Innovation: A Review

Sunnie Giles’ The New Science of Radical Innovation is a remarkable book, but it is not an easy read.  Drawing from the fields of artificial intelligence, neuroscience, quantum mechanics, systems theory, psychology, sociology, and business (among others), Giles provides important insights for successful leadership in a VUCA--volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous--world.  Her breadth of research and knowledge about our present context is a bit overwhelming.

The author’s theme is that radical innovation is mandatory for organizations to be effective in the current environment.  Giles identifies six distinct competency groups necessary to implement this type of innovation:  self-management, providing safety, creating differentiation, strengthening connection, facilitating learning, and stimulating radical innovation.  These form a pyramid of tasks, one building upon the other. The bottom two layers are about safety, the middle two layers are about connection, and the top two layers are about learning and innovation.  The result is what Giles calls Quantum Leaders, people who see with a new perspective and act upon it.

Each competency is pursued in detail and readers will be familiar with some of the ideas presented. For example, a key aspect of self-management are the skills of self-regulation, self-awareness, conscious communication and other-awareness, familiar concepts for those who understand the importance of Emotional Intelligence in leadership. The discussion of connection covers topics such as differentiation, diversity, boundaries, and self-organization, ideas taken from systems theory.  Learning and innovation touch on concepts of adaptive leadership.  

Her summary of “future leadership mandates” is informative.  

  • Decision-making must move beyond command and control structures provided by leaders to more autonomy and self-organization for those “on the boundaries” who interact with today’s rapidly changing environment.
  • Leaders must build teams that can exercise control and accountability based on peer policing and transparency.
  • Performance review and feedback must be provided in real time, facilitating a feeling of safety and maximizing learning.
  • Risk management must change from rigid, set policies to allow flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, and resilience to failures.  
  • Results must be evaluated not simply by looking at the short-term but at “less visible but critical elements that have an impact on the organization’s long-term survival.” 

The variety of disciplines that Giles brings to the subject is stimulating, but some sections almost seem to be an academic text book on a discipline.  Some case studies are provided, but more would have been helpful for the lay reader.  This leaves me asking who the author perceived to be her preferred audience.

In the conclusion, Giles explains that the book “is a culmination of over twenty thousand hours of organizational consulting, training, coaching, teaching, strategy development, and research.”  Given that background, the reader should expect to devote considerable time to digesting its contents but will find it an excellent resource.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.






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