Innovation | Curtis R. Carlson

Summary of: Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want
By: Curtis R. Carlson


Welcome to the fascinating world of ‘Innovation: The Five Disciplines for Creating What Customers Want’ by Curtis R. Carlson. This book summary delves into the nature of innovation, the challenges it faces, and its impact on society. It examines how innovations – such as coffee, the printing press, margarine, and transgenic plants – have disrupted existing norms and faced resistance from various quarters. The summary highlights the importance of understanding people’s concerns and values when introducing new technologies, while also recognizing the potential benefits and long-term shifts they can bring about. Prepare to explore the battles over innovations, the factors that contribute to their acceptance or resistance, and the broader implications for society and decision-making of introducing transformative technologies.

Economist Schumpeter’s Views on Innovation

Economist Joseph Schumpeter believed that innovation plays a crucial role in transforming economies. While the focus is usually on how innovation generates economic evolution, Schumpeter highlighted the role entrepreneurs play in that evolution. Though some people oppose technological advancements, it is imperative to embrace change. Many social issues can arise with such reluctance, including income inequality and apprehensions about technological distribution. Innovation clashes with conventional values that prioritize stability, and societies must adapt as people seek engagement in decision making. In short, Schumpeter’s views urge people to embrace innovation, despite short-term risks, for the benefits it offers in the long run.

The Clash Between Tradition and Innovation

The world faces a myriad of challenges, from security issues to sustainability, and technology is increasingly being used to solve them. However, this clash between tradition and innovation can have unforeseen consequences. Developing nations may bypass certain stages, but automation leads to job displacement and uncertainty. Pesticides, for example, are used widely despite the unknown implications and potential damage. It is important to consider the potential negative effects of transformative technologies, as they often only reveal themselves after the fact.

The Rise of Coffee Culture

From its humble beginnings, coffee faced opposition as it spread to new regions. However, the superiority of the stimulant helped secure its popularity and challenge existing markets. As coffeehouses emerged, they became social hubs that welcomed classes, and the drink became a symbol of free speech and secularization in religious countries. The importers and merchants involved in the coffee trade became wealthy, marking a significant shift in economic power. Today, coffee culture is an integral part of many societies worldwide.

Islam and the Printing Press

The Islamic world resisted the printing press despite the availability of the technology in China. Unlike Christianity, Islam regarded the oral transmission of religious knowledge as sacred. Mechanical reproduction would threaten the teacher-student relationship and make society more secular. Muslim opposition to printing lasted almost four centuries before they adopted Western concepts and technologies.

The Rise of Margarine

In the 1870s, butter prices in France doubled, leading the government to seek an alternative to feed its soldiers. Chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries created margarine and won a prize offered by Emperor Napoleon III. However, when Mege-Mouries brought margarine to America, dairy farmers viewed it as a threat to their livelihoods. Despite the opposition from the National Dairy Council, Americans consumed four times as much margarine as butter by the 1950s. The story illustrates how government policies can promote innovation, and how innovations that face initial resistance can ultimately triumph in the long run.

Tractors or Horses?

The advent of tractors in American farming after the Civil War signified a significant transformation. Although most farmers still preferred draft animals, the need to farm larger expanses of land led to the rise of tractors. It took a while for companies to innovate a tractor that could compete with horses in terms of reliability. The Horse Association of America emerged, arguing the moral issue of choosing horses over tractors and bolstering their advocacy with claims of tractors’ unreliability. Despite resistance, tractors eventually became the norm, and the Horse Association shifted its focus towards recreational horse ownership.

From Ice to Innovation

In the early 19th century, only the wealthy used ice for luxury items like chilled drinks. When the Civil War prevented transportation of ice to the South, scientists started developing alternatives for refrigeration. Shifting climate, pollution, and disease outbreaks dampened trust in natural ice. An artificial refrigeration industry emerged, but the natural ice industry fought back with ads and booklets. People opposed mechanical refrigeration as it increased the cost of living and could manipulate food prices. Although early mechanical refrigeration had hazards like fires and explosions, the industry continued to grow because of the innovations in technology that provided low-cost solutions to persistent problems.

From Part-Time Performers to Royalties: The Music Industry Evolution

In the 19th century, musicians struggled to earn a living as their craft was not highly respected and they often had to hold other jobs. Organized musicians fought for better status, and recording technology made music more accessible, causing a threat to live performance income. The American Federation of Musicians responded by banning recorded music, leading to public backlash. However, they eventually won contracts that paid royalties, securing the livelihoods of musicians and changing the music industry forever.

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