Book Review: The Invisible Element: A Practical Guide for the Human Dynamics of Innovation

Authors: Robert Rosenfeld and Gary Wilhelmi with Andrew Harrison

Review by: Awie Vlok
October 2011

Awie Vlok
As innovation practitioner, facilitator, coach and a university lecturer in the innovation field across many boundaries, I was thrilled when Bob Rosenfeld invited me to review their new book.

In true ICS fashion, the pre-launch version of their book is filled with wisdom and practical tools relevant to any new entrant and seasoned professionals in the innovation field. Reading it leaves you as convinced as Bob appears to be that innovation is the lifeblood of every organization.

The first 10 chapters or Part 1 of the book reiterates the human principles that Bob Rosenfeld and Gary Wilhelmi first introduced me to when I attended their programme at CCL in San Diego. Bob’s previous book, “Making the invisible visible; the human principles for sustaining innovation” formed the foundation for this programme which I found refreshingly different and useful at the time. Their principles based approach to innovation and their placing people on the centre stage of innovation, gave me critical insights to put an award winning leadership programme together for scientists, engineers and technologists.

The authors have clearly given much thought to the content, flow and presentation of their material. What also impressed me is that their advice for others is skilfully applied to their own work, for example:

• Pioneering thinking applied in taking their previous work to new levels to empower readers in new ways, such as through the inclusion of their innovative ISPI product.
• Inviting and trusting the reader to put the book to good use by honouring the principles underpinning sustainable quantifiable innovation gain.
• Blending the team’s diverse repertoires into a well blended story line that I am convinced will appeal to professionals wanting to improve their innovation practices and results.
• Educating readers who got stuck in using yesterday’s approaches and tools for today’s innovation challenges.

Part 2 is about mobilising for innovation and is packed with practical hands-on stuff. Many innovation books mention culture and risk as key issues in innovation. Few get to the actionable practical levels and for me this stands out in what the authors have accomplished. The book covers conceptual, implementation and practical issues in a way that is clear and convincing.

Chapters 16 – 18 deals with one of the biggest challenges for management today, soliciting engagement of others at different levels. Again this is done with remarkable attention to practicality.

    So what does the book not do?

Often the professionals and analysts involved in innovation call for precise definitions and simplistic stances on complex concepts. The authors do not give in to this temptation. Instead they venture into complex zones of meaning which they convey in simplified code to help readers understand where they are in a range of possible scenarios and the implications.
The authors do not politely hold back on sharing observations about the mistakes that managers make. They warn and then give solid advice for dealing with hurdles, focussing on people and treating innovation as top priority and dealing with it systemically, and by understanding the cause/effect relationships and consequences of their decisions and actions.
This book as an essential part of the discerning innovators tool kit and a welcome companion for leaders pursuing innovation through people.

Awie Vlok

The Invisible Element