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Innovation—The Missing Dimension

Innovation—The Missing Dimension

Richard K. Lester, Michael J. Piore

ISBN 9780674019942

Publication date: 04/15/2006

Amid mounting concern over the loss of jobs to low-wage economies, one fact is clear: America's prosperity hinges on the ability of its businesses to continually introduce new products and services. But what makes for a creative economy? How can the remarkable surge of innovation that fueled the boom of the 1990s be sustained?

For an answer, Richard K. Lester and Michael J. Piore examine innovation strategies in some of the economy's most dynamic sectors. Through eye-opening case studies of new product development in fields such as cell phones, medical devices, and blue jeans, two fundamental processes emerge.

One of these processes, analysis--rational problem solving--dominates management and engineering practice. The other, interpretation, is not widely understood, or even recognized--although, as the authors make clear, it is absolutely crucial to innovation. Unlike problem solving, interpretation embraces and exploits ambiguity, the wellspring of creativity in the economy. By emphasizing interpretation, and showing how these two radically different processes can be combined, Lester and Piore's book gives managers and designers the concepts and tools to keep new products flowing.

But the authors also offer an unsettling critique of national policy. By ignoring the role of interpretation, economic policymakers are drawing the wrong lessons from the 1990s boom. The current emphasis on expanding the reach of market competition will help the analytical processes needed to implement innovation. But if unchecked it risks choking off the economy's vital interpretive spaces. Unless a more balanced policy approach is adopted, warn Lester and Piore, America's capacity to innovate--its greatest economic asset--will erode.


  • Lester and Piore tell us that a corporate focus on core competencies will not suffice to make a brand irreplaceable and thus earn a ticket to prolonged life. Indeed great brands don't just fall from the sky, they have to be built through the carefully assembled blocks of innovation. The authors lead us to the conclusion that you have to go beyond just listening to the customer, you have to observe them and anticipate what they themselves never imagined they would want.

    —Patrick le Quément, Chief Designer, Renault


  • Richard K. Lester is Director of the Industrial Performance Center and Professor of Nuclear Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
  • Michael J. Piore is David W. Skinner Professor of Political Economy, Emeritus, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Book Details

  • 240 pages
  • 0-11/16 x 5 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press