Inside Rensselaer
* Satish Nambisan
The Global Brain Provides Roadmap for Innovation
Today’s corporate leaders are increasingly aware that growth and success depend on a company’s ability to tap external sources of innovation. Yet many find it difficult to translate that knowledge into action.

“There’s an enormous gap between awareness and execution,” says Rensselaer’s Satish Nambisan, co-author of The Global Brain: Your Roadmap for Innovating Faster and Smarter in a Networked World. “Our book is designed to close that gap.”

Published in October 2007 by Wharton School Publishing, The Global Brain is earning praise for a refreshing approach which recognizes that, when it comes to innovation, one size can’t possibly fit all. Instead, The Global Brain presents multiple models that companies can customize to fit their particular circumstances.

“Each company will have its own roadmap,” Nambisan said. “If The Global Brain has one message, it’s to find your own approach — the one that is best suited for your context, your industry, and your market—and prepare yourself by identifying and developing the capabilities necessary to execute that approach.”

An associate professor in the Lally School of Management & Technology, Nambisan is known worldwide for his research and insights in innovation management and technology strategy. His co-author, Mohanbir Sawhney, is the McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology and director of the Center for Research in Technology & Innovation at the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. Sawhney is a globally recognized scholar, teacher, consultant, and speaker in strategic marketing, innovation, and e-business.

Nambisan and Sawhney use the term “global brain” to refer to sources of innovation that lie beyond a company’s boundaries: the network of inventors, scientists, researchers, small firms, customers and suppliers — both within and outside the United States — whose ideas and technologies can spur significant growth. The authors urge companies to move from firm-centric to network-centric innovation. This externally focused approach optimizes the contributions of the global innovation partners and offers the greatest potential for success.

Four Models
Because the shift to network-centric innovation is “not an easy journey,” Nambisan said, The Global Brain lays out four models that companies can use to develop their own innovation frameworks.

  • The Orchestra Model: In the most structured of the four models, leadership is centralized, with one dominant firm serving as the conductor. The other network members complement and resonate with one another.
  • The Creative Bazaar Model: The dominant firm shops for innovation in a global bazaar of ideas, products, and technologies and uses its proprietary commercialization infrastructure to bring these innovations to market.
  • The Jam Central Model: Individual contributors as well as companies come together to collaborate on an innovation project whose goals are emergent. The innovation space is not well-defined and, as is the case in a musical jam session, members improvise. Further, there are no dominant members, and the responsibility for leading and coordinating the activity is diffused among network participants.
  • The MOD (Modification) Station Model: A community of innovators exploits and adapts existing products or services to address new market or technological opportunities. Activities occur within a predefined innovation space and are governed by the community, not by a dominant firm.

Broad Appeal
With its rigorous analyses, real-world examples, and practical roadmaps, The Global Brain can be an invaluable resource for those within and outside company walls. Its messages are aimed at a diverse audience, from chief executives and senior and middle managers to academic researchers, independent inventors, and third-party companies that help prepare innovations for commercialization.

According to Nick Donofrio ’67, who provided the foreword for The Global Brain, external, collaborative innovation “will forever change the way work is conducted, the way new opportunity is created, and how value is extracted from our endeavors.” IBM executive vice president, innovation and technology, and a Rensselaer trustee, Donofrio cites the guidelines that Nambisan and Sawhney provide to help companies identify and prepare for the most promising collaborative innovation opportunities.

Other reviewers — including the CEOs of Sun Microsystems and Wipro Technologies, senior executives from DuPont and Motorola, and faculty members from Harvard Business School, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and Kellogg School of Management — laud The Global Brain for its conceptual and practical insights, its useful models, and its “brilliant tour through the world of networks.

More information on The Global Brain is available at

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 8, November 29, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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