The Evolution of Revolutions: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change


How can entrepreneurs predict what the next revolution will be? How does a new idea, product, or service spread throughout a social system to spark "the next big thing"?

In this unique blend of historical analysis and how-to knowledge, a leading researcher and economist provides clear guidance on how to identify and foster innovations that will lead to revolutions. Based on analysis of more than two-dozen revolutions in business, sports, ...

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How can entrepreneurs predict what the next revolution will be? How does a new idea, product, or service spread throughout a social system to spark "the next big thing"?

In this unique blend of historical analysis and how-to knowledge, a leading researcher and economist provides clear guidance on how to identify and foster innovations that will lead to revolutions. Based on analysis of more than two-dozen revolutions in business, sports, science, and politics, he offers a wide-ranging understanding of the revolutionary process.

What separates a fad from a true revolution? The author’s illustrative case studies demonstrate that in order for an innovation to successfully create a revolution, it must pass through three stages: resistance, clarification, and elaboration. True revolutions result from a long evolutionary development process and an extensive adoption and expansion of the initial innovation.

The author—who holds a patent for analyzing the effectiveness of marketing strategies—describes important methods that can be used to create innovations as well as recognize and capitalize on emerging revolutions. In the spirit of The Tipping Point, Howie contends that change and revolution occur constantly and affect even the smallest things. In any industry today, there are multiple revolutions occurring. By understanding the process of innovation and how innovations throughout history have sparked lasting revolution, readers will learn how to create revolutions of their own.

This book offers a wealth of research and sound methodology for navigating today’s dynamic business environment, where change is the only constant.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Patrick Howie’s book artfully and engagingly tackles arguably the most important force underpinning our individual and collective wellbeing, namely the process of innovation. By weaving together an analysis of a wide range of innovations in the sciences, economics, and political history, he is able to provide key insights into how and why some innovations succeed and others do not. The story he tells is both educational and entertaining."
—Mark Zandi, Chief Economist of Moody’s and author of Financial Shock:
A 360° Look at the Subprime Mortgage Implosion and How to Avoid the Next Financial Crisis

"A clear and compelling blueprint for those trying to create change, making it a must read for any entrepreneur."
—Chuck Newhall, Co-Founder, New Enterprise Associates, the world’s largest Venture Capital firm

"The Evolution of Revolutions is compelling and applicable to all disciplines, fields, businesses and innovations. A must read and an awakening in today’s changing and challenging environment."
—Dr. Phil Gerbino, President, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781616142353
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books
  • Publication date: 2/1/2011
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Patrick J. Howie (Maple Glen, PA) has spent two decades studying the social process of innovation as an economist, head of product development for a venture capital-backed start-up, and as creator of the social prediction website His work has been cited and published in numerous publications including Forbes, Fortune, Business Week, and the Wall Street Journal. Patrick holds a patent for A Unique Method and System of Analyzing the Effectiveness of Marketing Strategies.

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The World Wide Web Phenomenon....................23
Chapter 2: The Innovation Process....................49
Chapter 3: The Relativity Revolution....................71
Chapter 4: The Nature of Innovation....................91
Chapter 5: The Democratic Revolution....................121
Chapter 6: From Innovation to Revolution....................143
Chapter 7: Emergent Properties of Revolutions....................167
Chapter 8: Predicting Innovation Adoption....................191
Chapter 9: The Universal Constant....................209
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First Chapter



Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2011 Patrick J. Howie
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-235-3


A Revolutionary Book

"This makes a lot of sense ... at least on paper" —a blogger's assessment of electronic books

Paper or Electronic? Did you know that by the very act of reading this book you are helping to shape a revolution?

The electronic book or, more precisely, the electronic book reader nudged its way into the public consciousness in the 2009 holiday season. To the general public, the e-reader was no longer that obscure toy they heard about at cocktail parties. The Amazon Kindle was entering its third holiday season, and the buzz surrounding the early 2010 release of the Apple iPad reached near-deafening levels. While the e-reader was still a product for those ahead of the curve, much like flat-screen televisions were a few years before, more and more people started to consider owning one.

The holiday season proved to be successful, at least according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who triumphantly claimed that the Amazon Kindle was "the most gifted" item in Amazon's history and that sales of e-books outstripped sales of regular books on Christmas day. Just over a month later, the Wad was officially introduced to the world, although it took another three months before it was actually available for purchase. Apple reported over 300,000 sales of the Wad on the first day alone and over 250,000 books purchased from the Apple iBook store within the first few days.

Despite this heightened fanfare, the e-book and the e-reader have a long and storied history. The first e-books were produced by the nonprofit organization Project Gutenberg all the way back in 1971 with the simple mission "to encourage the creation and distribution of eBooks." The e-book received a boost in 2000 when Stephen King made his new book, Riding the Bullet, available in electronic form only.' Shortly before King's release, thirty-two organizations representing the publishing and technology industries teamed up to develop e-book standards.

The e-book community noted that the computer was not perfectly suited for book reading since the computer, even the laptop, was not light and portable enough for most reading, not to mention that the text was difficult to read. Recognizing a need, numerous companies developed e-readers in the early part of the decade. Midway through the decade, the big boys joined the party as Sony launched its first e-reader to much fanfare in 2006 and Amazon launched the first Kindle in November of 2007. Apparently unprepared for the pent-up demand, the Kindle sold out in one day and was out of stock for the next five months. Despite this setback, first-year sales of Kindles were actually larger than first-year sales of Apple's iPod.

Although "traditional" books still dominate the market, all the signs indicate that the publishing industry is in the early stages of a revolution. This revolution will extend well beyond the mere replacing of paper with electrons as the technology will continue to develop into areas that we can only imagine today. This revolution will also fundamentally alter the publishing industry, as the balance of power across publishers and with authors will change radically. How and when this revolution takes place depends, in part, on how you-the reader and consumer-respond to these developments.

This book will explore how innovations develop and what must transpire for an innovation to create a revolution. Along the way we will explode some of the myths about innovation and revolutions, namely, that innovations occur as a result of the superhuman abilities of individuals or that revolutions occur in a single great leap. In their place, this book will demonstrate how innovations and revolutions are social phenomena that require overcoming many powerful psychological and communal forces.

* * *

Creative destruction is the process by which new ideas, businesses, and industries emerge and therefore lead to the downfall of traditional ideas, businesses, and industries. It is a revolutionary process. A revolution is not just a political event, for revolutions occur in all areas, whether in business, politics, or science, but the revolutionary process for all areas is the same. Revolutions represent a long process—from the initial innovation to the dramatic revolutionary period, through the long postrevolutionary adjustment. At its core, this book is about understanding the process of innovation and how a new idea, product, or service spreads throughout a social system to cause a revolution. The goal here is to enable the reader to identify or create revolutions as well as to capitalize on the effects of revolutions.

This is a business book, but it is not about business. It takes a wide-angle view of innovation as a social phenomenon rather than a narrow view of its being exclusively a business innovation. But this book does adopt an important element from the traditional business model of learning, the case study. I have evaluated over two dozen revolutions, most of which will be discussed throughout the book. But three will be discussed in detail, both to highlight the universal nature of the process of innovation and change, regardless of the subject matter, as well as to bring together a unified way of looking at the revolutionary process across the political, scientific, and economic spheres. What you will find is that the process of innovation and change is surprisingly similar across all these seemingly distinct fields.

Rather than pull some specific case studies only from industry, however, we will focus on three of the largest forces that have shaped, and that continue to shape, our world and culture: the democratic revolution that began with the American Revolution, the relativity revolution that took hold through Albert Einstein's theories, and the seemingly rapid emergence of the World Wide Web as the dominant social force of our time. These case studies have been chosen not only because they represent fascinating stories and highlight facts that may surprise many. They have been chosen because among their many similarities is the fact that the common view of each story is wrong.

For example, the idea that each of these revolutions was the work of a single act of genius or reflected a dramatic leap forward in thinking is an unfortunate oversimplification. Each of these revolutions evolved over decades and represented the culmination of a social process. In addition, the "revolutionary" moment so often mythicized will be shown to be only an intermediate step in the process, as the revolution continued well beyond that moment.

Although The Evolution of Revolutions focuses on these major events, it will be clear by the end of the book that innovation, change, and "revolutions" are occurring all the time and can revolve around the smallest of items. In any industry today, there are multiple revolutions occurring. Granted, some are more significant than others, but innovation and change is occurring constantly. The same is true inside a company—inside every company today there are multiple revolutions occurring. These revolutions could reflect a change in how a product is manufactured, how a sales force is structured, or how a business process is changed to address a specific problem. While these are generally not thought of as "revolutions," the process of innovation and change is the same from the smallest "revolution" to the largest political, scientific, or economic revolution.

Our aim is to show how the story of these revolutions can help people understand how to identify, create, and react to revolutions. Separating the case study chapters are chapters that focus on helping readers harness the power of innovations. Innovation isn't easy. By understanding the process of innovation and how innovations throughout history have sparked lasting revolutions, readers will learn how to create revolutions of their own.

* * *

At the heart of any revolution are one or more innovations. Critical to creating, leading, or exploiting revolutions is the ability to understand how innovations are developed. I know all too well that creating novel solutions is a difficult task wrought with many failures, but I also know that some people and some organizations are much better at innovating than others. Being able to identify the critical elements of successful innovator teams and successful innovators is crucial to success. Drawing on my personal experience as well as research on creativity and innovation, this book will lay out the critical elements to creating successful innovations.

Creating successful innovations is actually very different from creating innovations, as the former requires acceptance by a target audience. A critical thesis of this book is that in order for an innovation to successfully cause a revolution, it must pass through three stages: resistance, clarification, and elaboration. Failure to pass through each stage is what separates a fad from a true revolution.

Recent advances in the psychology of decision making help us understand the motivating forces behind resistance. They also provide insight into what is required to overcome it. Two striking features emerge when we focus on resistance: first, resistance is a completely rational response to an innovation, even in the face of seemingly overwhelming evidence; second, the decision to adopt or reject an innovation is frequently not based on the evidence anyway. It is fascinating to learn that Einstein's theory of relativity actually had relatively little evidence as compared to Newtonian physics. Consequently, while a large portion of the physics community initially did not accept the newer theory, some members immediately gravitated to relativity despite the lack of evidence.

That new innovations are met with resistance is hardly a novel idea, but the notion that resistance leads to further refinements of the innovation is an often-misunderstood element in the transition from innovation to revolution. Despite the efforts of the smartest people, new innovations almost always have "bugs" that need to be worked out. This is one reason why it is natural to resist, since it is highly likely there is some problem that has yet to be detected. The ability to successfully improve the innovation or, in the rare case when the innovation is correct out of the gate, the ability to provide sufficient evidence that the innovation is fundamentally sound is critical to transforming an innovation into a revolution—this is the clarification stage.

A corollary to the ability to clarify exactly what the innovation does and the benefit it provides is the capability to extend the innovation to meet additional demands not originally foreseen. True innovations spark further innovations, and the resultant revolutions actually represent the cumulative impact of the initial innovations as well as the subsequent innovations. One of the fascinating facts that will clearly be demonstrated is that the value of the subsequent innovations always dwarfs the value of the original innovation. The real value of the original innovation lies in the ability to open new avenues for further innovation.

It has been noted that there is no shortage of good innovative ideas and that the ability to determine which innovative idea will lead to a revolution is a formidable challenge facing those in business, politics, or science. The final theme of this book focuses on the means of identifying those innovations that will lead to revolutions. I have spent the last fifteen years, first as an economist then as marketing scientist, with the primary objective in developing tools to forecast how new products, changes in regulations, or market conditions will impact consumer's choices. Based on this work as well as recent advances in marketing science, this book will link one of the most used forecasting tools to newly developed market research tools so as to provide clear guidance on how to detect future revolutions.

* * *

The ideas behind The Evolution of Revolutions follow a path strikingly similar to the book's core thesis: that a revolution is the result of a long developmental evolution, a "revolutionary moment," then a long period of further evolution that culminates in a synthesis of the innovation process.

The first seeds for this book were sown back while I was a student at the University of Pennsylvania. I had taken a particular interest in political philosophy and, upon studying the great philosophical treatises that emerged during the Enlightenment period, I was rather shocked to see that the most beautiful language from the Declaration of Independence was plagiarized from these philosophical treatises. While this is well known to political scientists and philosophers, I have since learned that many people are not familiar with the intellectual heritage of the democratic revolution.

During those years I was also introduced to the fundamental shift in worldview that resulted from Einstein's physics, based on relativity, compared to that based on traditional Newtonian physics. I was stunned then, when I was reading a book by the French mathematician Henri Poincaré in which he actually introduced the term "relativity" a few years prior to Einstein and addressed the near crisis the physics community was facing when dealing with the struggle to integrate new information into the traditional Newtonian physics. Again, very few people outside of those who study the history of physics or the philosophy of science recognize that Einstein's breakthrough was not as radical as most are led to believe.

These two events represent striking examples of revolutionary ideas clearly being the result of evolutionary processes. Further evaluation of numerous other revolutions, both big and small, have reinforced that evolutionary processes are a fundamental component of revolutions. The study of other evolutions has also led me to see clear patterns and similarities across revolutions, regardless of the subject area. For example, research into the development of the World Wide Web identified a process similar to that of the democratic revolution and the relativity revolution. Most striking, the fundamental notion underlying the web—that of interconnectedness and the ability to sift through massive volumes of information to find that which is most relevant—was identified as a critical need back before the first computer was even completed. Again, the World Wide Web, which seemingly exploded onto the public consciousness in the late 1990s, was merely part of an evolutionary process for those within the information technology area.

The revolutionary moment that inspired The Evolution of Revolutions came out of a presentation I gave to a struggling "not-com" company in the early 2000s. The employees of this company truly believed they were going to revolutionize their industry, but they struggled with both internal and external resistance. Tensions ran high within the organization and among the senior management team, with finger pointing being the most common reaction to problems. Drawing on my research into the struggles faced by other organizations, I decided to put those struggles in context. My presentation was designed to encourage everyone to step back and recognize that the tensions and struggles we were experiencing were not unique to the company or the result of bad management but rather reflected the struggles that accompany innovation and change.

By showing that that company's struggles, both internal and external with clients, were no different than the struggles faced by others undergoing revolutions, the presentation enabled the extended management team, which included members from every group in the organization, to stop (or at least reduce) blaming others for their struggles and to recognize that creating change is exceptionally challenging. For me, however, that presentation inspired this book: going from a descriptive account of the struggles associated with creating change to an insightful and useful understanding of how to harness the forces of change.


Excerpted from THE EVOLUTION OF REVOLUTIONS by PATRICK J. HOWIE Copyright © 2011 by Patrick J. Howie. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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