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Ninja Innovation

I used to read – a lot. Now, I read mostly magazines at home (it’s easier to carve out 20 minutes to read an article or two than it is to read an entire book.) I also like to read business books on airplanes. Earlier this year, I received the book Ninja Innovation by Gary Shapiro in the mail.  It was a gift from the publisher, so I thought I’d thumb through it. A few chapters were of particular interest.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about how “Risky is the New Safe.”  Shapiro continues on this theme and identifies that — like in war — risk at the corporate level is unavoidable. By taking risks, he points out that it doesn’t mean reckless or random acts without forethought. Instead he writes, “It means exploring options, assessing likelihoods, and making rational decisions.”

One chapter on risk highlights Intel and the Intel Inside ® branding program. This long-standing program is the foundation of one of the most innovative companies in the world. Back in the 90’s, the thought of a component or chip manufacturer branding itself for the consumer audience was unheard of. Yet they remain a household name throughout the world.

When the Intel Inside program was launched, I was a marketing executive at a start-up firm named Tricord. We were designing what was then referred to as a “Superserver.” They were basically PCs on steroids, with the Intel microprocessor at its core. Some of the first multiprocessing operating systems (think Windows NT) were designed on them. We were a small company competing against the giants of Compaq and HP.  While we had a great run, growing to more than $80 million in sales in less than three years with our products on the covers of PC Magazine and Byte as the fastest servers ever tested, the company lost its focus. Rather than focus on our strengths, the firm believed it could compete against the big boys on their terms.

What I learned there was that you need a great product to compete. Then you need to take calculated risks that are aimed at targets that play to your (and not your competitors’) strengths. It doesn’t guarantee success, but it does help move the odds closer to your favor.

Are you taking calculated risks?