Book Review: Ninja Innovation

A look at 'the 10 killer strategies of the world's most successful businesses.'

by / June 11, 2013

Innovation is one of the hottest buzzwords in the public and private sectors and it’s slowly making its way into job titles. Cities and states are appointing innovation chiefs who are charged with improving government efficiency, spurring economic development and making data more transparent and usable. But whether “chief” or “innovation” is an official part of your job title or you’re merely looking at how to spark innovation in your professional life, there are strategies that determine your success or lack thereof.

You could become a ninja when it comes to innovation. There’s an art, there’s a code, there are rules, there’s preparation — all of which author Gary Shapiro discusses in his newest book Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses.* Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, draws on his experience of earning a black belt in taekwondo, while using ninja as a metaphor to compare the ancient warriors with some of the tech industry’s top business leaders and companies.

Ninjas have an indomitable spirit. “Some of the most successful Americans in war, politics and business were also spectacular failures,” Shapiro writes on why risk matters.

Tech heavyweights like Intel, IBM and e-commerce site eBay succeeded not only because they were risk-takers, but also because they knew their weaknesses and used teamwork to shore up their inadequacies.

Ninja innovators also adapt, adjust and dominate, Shapiro says. Using IBM as a prime example, he paints a picture of how Big Blue rocked the computer industry with the launch of its PC. But Shapiro doesn’t just share a success story, he also writes about IBM’s introduction of the PCjr, which flopped. Through this failure, however, the company gained a better understanding of its customers’ needs and was able to adapt and launch a “transportable” device, which would become the impetus for the laptop age.

Ninja Innovation boasts 10 “killer” strategies that are broken into chapters, so readers can easily alternate between topics depending on what strategy they’d like to learn more about. Each chapter consists of industry case studies as well as anecdotes of ninja innovators like Apple’s Steve Jobs, former eBay executive Meg Whitman and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.

Three takeaways that CIOs can extract from the book are:

Be persistent — Ninja innovators don’t quit. They find a workaround, and they don’t allow themselves to be paralyzed by failure.

Anticipate change — Change is inevitable, so it should be expected. “Those who correctly anticipate transformations and prepare themselves are likely to be better off than those who have to scramble to adapt to changes already upon them,” Shapiro writes.

Pay it forward — As part of the ninja code, ninjas pass their skills on to others. “The most successful organizations have a culture of sharing and training,” he writes. “This means that the more experiences and success a person has, the greater the obligation to impart wisdom and pay it forward to the next generation.”

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, and it may be nothing new to some, there are many nuggets of information included that are the foundation of success and are worth revisiting.


*This is an affiliate link to Ninja Innovation.

Karen Stewartson

Karen Stewartson served as the managing editor of Government Technology for many years. She also contributed to Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.