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Start-ups are for all

Sanjeev Bikhchandani  |  New Delhi 

is a significant book for two reasons.

First because of the credentials of the authors.

Lafley is the Chairman and CEO of Procter and Gamble. In his tenure over the last seven years P&G has tripled profits and has massively improved revenue growth and margins.

Charan is one of the most influential management thinkers in the world today. Born in a small town in UP, he worked in the family shoe shop, studied engineering and later went to Harvard for an MBA and then a Doctorate. He taught at Harvard and Kellog and is now a full time management consultant with several and articles to his credit.

The second reason why it is significant is because of the importance of the subject the book addresses — innovation, or rather the management of innovation.

Innovation, to my mind, is or should be central to the agenda of every high-growth high-performance company anywhere in the world.

The premise of this book is that an innovation-led strategy is the best way for companies to attain sustainable and profitable growth. Lafley opens the book by saying that his job as CEO of P&G is to integrate innovation into everything that P&G does. It is the central principle around which people at P&G make decisions and seek opportunities for growth.

Innovation, the authors say, must be customer-centric and customer-driven and organisations must first structure themselves around the customer for this. The organisation and the people working there must possess a motivating purpose and values. The next stage in the process is to identify opportunities, and decide on goals and strategies and then leverage on core competencies to make it happen. At the execution stage organising for innovation involves putting in places appropriate structures and systems, building the right culture and ensuring the innovation process gets leadership.

Sounds like management jargon — well it is and the book has more than enough of it. It sounds great as a textbookish process when articulated like this — but it is the execution that counts. And Lafley did successfully follow this route at P&G.

Orchestrating an innovation-centred transformation implies not being afraid of failure. Lafley says he gets worried when 60 per cent of his innovations are successful. It means he is playing too safe and not pushing the envelope enough. In the book he candidly lists out the big failures of P&G over the past seven years.

The book is an interesting jugalbandi between Lafley and Charan — with both speaking in different voices. Lafley talks the reader through the transformation, which was centred around innovation, that P&G went through under his leadership. Charan puts the P&G experience in perspective and looks at other companies and industries where innovation has made an impact.

is useful for understanding how one large company pursued innovation to transform its fortunes and there is also perspective of how other large companies did similar things. It should be read by managers and leaders in large companies, by business school students and professors, and by trainers.

However, if you are looking for a story with the romance of entrepreneurial brilliance at innovation, eureka moments, one mans passion and dream — the small start up in a garage that set out to change the world and successfully did — forget it. This is not that book.

In fact it is not a gripping unputdownable read. It needs to be read slowly and carefully and after reading a chapter you need to think through the import of what you have just read, perhaps skim through it again — make bullet points and discuss them with a colleague or friend while going through in your head the implications of what you have just read for your organisation.

The book is less about innovating and more about the organisation and management of innovation and the strategic importance of innovation.

It tells you that innovation is not the preserve of Silicon Valley start-ups alone. It can successfully be pursued by large stodgy companies, with low product or service differentiation, operating in mature markets and displaying moderate growth with steady or declining profit margins.

The author is CEO and Co Founder


A G Lafley and Ram Charan
336 pages; Rs 399

First Published: Thu, September 18 2008. 00:00 IST