This is Jill Vandewoestine posting for the Technology Marketing Center
About 4 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Phil McKinney face-to-face, while he was still CTO of the Personal Systems Group at HP. He was high-energy and smart, in a way that made everyone around him smarter and more high-energy. His book mirrors that energy and intelligence, and provides some excellent innovation and technical marketing food for thought.
McKinney's innovation process is founded on asking Socratic questions which expose assumptions about customers, products, and operating methods. As teams challenge their mental models, they uncover innovative ways to create value and remove obstacles to success. He provides an innovation process model called FIRE (Focus, Ideate, Rank, Execute), tips on how to handle "corporate antibodies" that stifle new ideas, and details on using the processes in an innovation workshop format. McKinney also includes case studies from his time advising different companies on innovation that bring his ideas to life. All this is packaged in a tight, readable style that is entertaining and engaging.
None of Phil's advice is rocket science, but that makes it understandable and do-able. There are some great "who" questions that force consideration of who the customer really is and what they really want. In my experience, faulty customer assumptions are extremely hazardous to successful innovation efforts, so spending time with these questions can pay huge dividends. The workshop format is spelled out very precisely so that anyone can give it a try.
One confusing thing in the book is McKinney's definition of value chain - he uses it as a term for the processes within a company (R&D, manufacturing, distribution, customer service), rather than how different components of an end product are made by different companies. His questions about internal processes are valid, but aren't applicable for changing assumptions about external value chains. McKinney also admits that some organizations may not let an insider lead an Innovation Workshop and need an outside consultant to get people to try it. Finally, asking questions like these assume that the answers are available. If a company is getting into a new market or product area, or is missing significant market or technical knowledge, McKinney's questions will cause frustration instead of enlightenment.
Bottom line: this book is a great resource for teams or companies that are in an innovation rut and need a boost of energy and insight to get back on track. After doing a little homework, answering McKinney's Killer Questions can lead to real innovation.