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Book review: Fire in the Machine

Fire in the Machine book cover

Innovation is essential to business success, no matter the size of the operation. However, innovation has its share of challenges for large consumer packaged goods (CPG) organizations that startups do not, as the latest book I read explains. What follows is my review of Fire in the Machine: Driving Entrepreneurial Innovation in Large CPG Organizations by Jonathan Tofel and Carolina Sasson.

Disclosure: I was given a free copy of the eBook in return for writing an honest review.

Fire in the Machine: Large CPG organizations must keep up – But there are issues

As consumer tastes change and trends come and go, large CPG companies must keep up. But product innovation agility is more difficult in bigger organizations than for entrepreneurial startups, explain innovation experts Tofel and Sasson in Fire in the Machine. Both authors are CPG veterans who now work together at Mission Field, where Jonathan Tofel is CEO, and Sasson is COO.

Of course, I was curious about the seemingly backward dynamic where a small team of, say, five people in a startup could launch a new product in the CPG industry successfully while a Fortune 500 company would have more trouble doing so. Why, exactly, is this the case? What are startups doing right that bigger CPGs can learn from? That is the answer that the book seeks to give.

The authors draw on what they learned from working with big CPG clients throughout the book. For example, clients have told them they hesitate to change product lines without proving success first. Along with trying to mitigate risks, various innovation issues get in the way of launch success, including seeking perfection.

While entrepreneurial startups certainly can have their share of challenges, including insufficient resources and funding, they have freedom from many constraints long-standing CPG companies face, explain the authors. Thus, startups can change pace very fast in ways bigger CPG’s cannot or will not do, for instance, because of fear.

Now that the problem is apparent, what are the solutions?

At its heart, Fire in the Machine intends to help solve the issue outlined above. Based on their experiences, as well as case studies and quotes, the two authors provide ways to give disruptive ideas a better chance of success. The methodologies in the book are designed to provide the necessary space for innovations to live and grow within an established organization in the consumer packaged goods industry.

While the authors admit at the start of the book that they cannot address every challenge in an organization, the goal is to reduce build, test, and reduce risks of disruptive ideas. The aim is to ignite the “fire in the machine” to charge up innovative thinking and growth in new ways within big CPG companies.

For those owners and executives who read this book, I think they will find detailed ideas to help ignite that flame. There are many great examples of how different methodologies have been used and what bigger organizations can learn from smaller ones in the CPG space.

After outlining several challenges to large company innovation, authors Toffel and Sasson move to the solution, which they call the EMBR process. The EMBR philosophy refers to having a clear vision, expanding boundaries, pushing innovation further, creating a sense of urgency, scaling success, and much more. EMBR stands for Energize, Make, Burst, and Roar.

The book takes the reader through each part of the EMBR process in detail, offering new ways to innovate and decrease associated risks as a well-established company in the consumer packaged goods industry.

Final thoughts on Fire in the Machine

While the book is not a long read at 199 pages, it is brimming with ideas for business owners and top executives. If driving innovation in your large CPG organization is at the top of the list, Fire in the Machine is an insightful book to read.

The book’s organization is logical and thoughtful, including case studies, quotes, lists, and diagrams to illustrate various points. The EMBR process offers insights for big CPG companies to overcome common hurdles regarding innovation, meeting a need that authors Jonathan Tofel and Carolina Sasson identify in the industry.

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