Book Review: The Prosperity Paradox by Clayton M. Christensen, Efosa Ojomo and Karen Dillon


If you are in the innovation space this book is a must read, but innovation is broad, if you are in the development space, even more important that you get hold of this book.

Prof Clayton Christensen, Mr. Efosa Ojomo and Ms. Karen Dillon looks at the world from innovation lenses.

Do you want to create jobs? innovation.

Do you want to end poverty? Innovation.

Do you want to create prosperity? Innovation.

Do you have a question? the answer is… You guessed it: Innovation.

Innovation is the central theme of this book, but not just any innovation.

As they argue in the book, not all innovations are created equally, so market-creating innovation is the precise answer to the question.

I thoroughly enjoyed the case studies in this book. What the trio have done very well is provide case studies of companies from the USA, Japan, Mexico, and Africa.

Case studies from Henry Ford, Isaac Merritt Singer, George Eastman, Amadeo Gianni, to Sony, Toyota, and Mexico’s Clinicas del Azucar.

In Africa, there are case studies of Mo Ibrahim’s Celtel, South Africa’s 2010 Soccer World Cup, Bollyhood etc.

You will learn new concepts such as:

  • Nonconsumption
  • Market-creating innovations
  • Pull and push factors

There are chapters such as:

  • Not all innovations are created equal
  • In the Struggle lies Opportunities
  • America’s Innovation Story
  • How the East Met the West
  • Good Laws Are not Enough
  • Corruption is not the problem: It’s a solution

There is a section in the book that focuses on my home-country, South Africa and the 2010 World Cup that I enjoyed.

One other thing that stood out from the book is how it adopts a worldwide view when it comes to innovation. The examples and cases it uses are from almost all continents of the world.

When you are done reading the book, you are able to understand how innovation is applied throughout the world.



I highly recommend this book. If you are an entrepreneur, government official or anyone in the development space, you have to read it.

This book will alters how you look at innovation and development work. You will never be the same after reading this book.

I’m going to re-read it. I highlight books that I read and this book has so many highlights on it and I’m sure when I re-read it, I will highlight some more. It is going to be my working book going forward, it has so many nuggets to enjoy.

It is a practical book and provide concise and clear examples on how to create prosperity in any society.

I hope to put on the theories and framework as a set of lenses to enable myself to see the world differently.

This book is an inspiration to see the world differently.

Favourite Quotes

  • “This struggle often presents itself as “non consumption” where would-be consumers are desperate to make progress in a particular aspect of their lives, but there is no affordable and accessible solution to their problem.”
  • “Not all innovations are created equal.”
  • “Market creating innovations do exactly what the name implies, they create new markets. But not just any new markets, new markets that serve people for whom, either no products existed or existing products were neither affordable nor accessible for a variety of reasons.
  • “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust”

  • “The problem is, it is very difficult to “see” what you are not looking for. Many of our economic forecasts don’t necessarily help, they typically focus on what we call the “consumption economy,” the part of the economy that is most visible through conventional metrics.
  • “People are nonconsumers because they are struggling to accomplish something, but none of the available solutions are good options for them.”

  • “Development and prosperity take root when we develop innovations that pull in necessary resources a society requires.”
  • “If we create a market that successfully serves a growing population of nonconsumers, that market is likely to pull in many other resources an economy requires.”

  • Just because a nation is economically poor does not mean that vast market creation opportunities do not exist within its borders.
  • “If you build it, they may not come.”




Hype: and it’s antidote quiet confidence


I recently read an interesting article on Sade titled: Sade’s Quiet Storm of Cool.

One quote that always stands out every time I read this article is:

“Sade is one of the most relentlessly quiet famous people on the planet. But in her extended silences, her place in the pantheon of cultural influence has only grown more enormous.”

It is easy to fall into the sense of self-importance and believe your own hype.

In a world of social media, personal branding, self-promotion, strategic positioning, narcissism has silently crept into many people’s lives.

As the article makes an observation about Sade:

She seemed to operate according to the principle that narcissism was not the precondition for artistic exploration, but was instead its enemy.

Detachment is a sort of natural ego antidote.

It is easy to be emotionally invested and infatuated with your own work. Any and every narcissist can do that.

What is rare is not raw talent, skill, or even confidence, but humility, diligence and self-awareness.

Quiet confident people work quietly in their corner.

They turn their inner turmoil into product, and eventually to stillness.

They ignore hype and the impulse to seek recognition.

They don’t talk much.

They don’t mind the feeling that others, out there in public are enjoying the limelight, and are somehow getting the better end of the deal and they are not.

Instead they embrace JOMO [joy of missing out]

They are too busy working to do anything else.

When they do talk, it is earned.

If you are doing work that matters and putting in the hours, you won’t need the hype, you won’t need validation, you won’t need to overcompensate.

It is in the times of being unseen and hidden that we go deeper.

The treasure is in the depths.



Hype: When the dust settles


The thing with hype is that when the dust settles, we are left with long term consequences that often we have not planned for.

That’s what hype does, it is fleeting.

Hype makes you think of the now, not caring of what happens thereafter.

The hype of “you only live once,” seduces you to do reckless things for the now, but forgets to inform you that actually you live every day, not once…

The hype of “spend now, it’s your money, you worked hard for it anyway,” forgets to inform you that the consumerism culture leads you to debt that you will have to work even harder to repay.

The hype of “do it, it’s only once, and besides no one will find out,” forgets to let you know that, like drugs, you will be tempted to do it again, and again, until you can’t stop yourself…. until someone finds out.

When the dust settles, the situation will look different than it does today.

Most importantly, when the dust settles, your legacy remains.

When the dust settles, we are able to see clearly, let it be that we are able to see a legacy that you want to leave behind.

Hype: Subtle beauty….


One of the things I have decided to avoid is the hype in most things.

In the age of social media, tv industrial complex, events, etc, it is easy to hype things:

  • To hype self-importance on social media
  • To hype beauty of an AirBnb room on the website
  • To hype a book, event, art, music, products or services, etc.

The thing is truly beautiful things don’t need hype.

They are subtle, they don’t try too hard, they do the job without fanfare, without bells and whistles.

Truly remarkable things sneak up on you and quietly leave you breathless.

Kodac moments happen unexpected.

Truly remarkable pictures are not taken when people are posing, they are captured when the person is busy is in the moment, sometimes unaware that they are being captured.

Subtle beauty does not seek attention.

Subtle beauty is helping the needy and leaving the camera at home.

Subtle beauty is allowing others to shine without hogging the space.

Subtle beauty is embracing blame when things go wrong but reflecting credit to others when they go right.

Hype is more immediate than trust, but in the long run trust is a more sustainable strategy.

Seek to do work that matters, connect, care, do it without hype, without seeking attention, without fanfare, do it because you can.

That way you will earn trust from people who truly matters.


Hype: Tis the season


It is that time of the year again, Ke Dezember bauss, the hype season.

It is easy to hype up your products and services so that people can spend more.

People [South Africans especially] have received their bonuses and are ready to spend more.

And so starts the excitement, the long school holidays, the parties, family reunions, and shopping galore.

Some businesses will hit their highest sales this month than any other months in a year.

So the hype increases.

Buy now, buy more.

Spend now, spend more.

And so goes the hype, to an extent that instead of it being a holiday season, it has become a spending spree season.

The hype cheapens the hyped, as right things are then made wrong by exaggeration.

Don’t fall into the trap of hyping your products, instead focus building trust, and delivering quality to customers.

Be geniune, don’t play to the gallery, be authentic, and truly care.

Quality sells itself. No hype needed.


Profitable, difficult, or important?


This past weekend, I’m reflecting on a Seth Godin blog post from a few weeks ago – profitable, difficult, or important?

I hope you take the time to go read it.

Seth talks about two talked about trillion dollar companies – Apple and Amazon – who have each gotten to where they are by doing work that is “profitable” and “difficult” respectively.

They made a choice, stated a promise, and kept it.

It is commendable.

He then goes on to make a powerful point about “important” work.

“But the most daring and generous, those that are often overlooked and never hit a trillion dollars in the stock market, are left to do the important work. The work of helping others be seen, or building safe spaces. The work of creating opportunity or teaching and modelling new ways forward. The work of changing things for the better.

Changing things for the better is rarely applauded by Wall Street, but Wall Street might not be the point of your work. It might simply be to do work you’re proud of, to contribute, and to leave things a little better than you found them.”

I have observed that very few careers combine profitable, difficult, and important.

The best most get to is a combination of two of them.

And, it is on us to work toward the combination that fits how we will measure our lives.

I asked a friend how come Prof Clay Christensen has not won a Nobel Peace Prize for his amazing work on Disruptive Innovation and before he could even answer, I knew the answer is because Prof Clay doesn’t measure his life according to awards he wins, but according to the lives he has impacted and changed.

Test: The importance of trial and error

One of my favourite TED talks is by Tim Harford titled Trial and Error and the God Complex.

Harford is an economics writer who studies complex systems and finds a surprising link among the most successful ones; they are built through trial and error.

His talk centers around the idea of a God complex, a refusal to admit the possibility of being wrong regardless of the complexity of the situation, and how trial and error creates better results than a self proclaimed expert.

Here is an excerpt from Harford’s stellar Ted Talk:

So let’s say you wanted to make detergent. Let’s say you’re Unilever and you want to make detergent in a factory near Liverpool. How do you do it? Well you have this great big tank full of liquid detergent. You pump it at a high pressure through a nozzle. You create a spray of detergent. Then the spray dries. It turns into powder. It falls to the floor. You scoop it up. You put it in cardboard boxes. You sell it at a supermarket. You make lots of money.

How do you design that nozzle? It turns out to be very important. Now if you ascribe to the God complex, what you do is you find yourself a little God. You find yourself a mathematician; you find yourself a physicist — somebody who understands the dynamics of this fluid. And he will, or she will, calculate the optimal design of the nozzle. Now Unilever did this and it didn’t work — too complicated. Even this problem, too complicated.

But the geneticist Professor Steve Jones describes how Unilever actually did solve this problem — trial and error, variation and selection. You take a nozzle and you create 10 random variations on the nozzle. You try out all 10, you keep the one that works best. You create 10 variations on that one. You try out all 10. You keep the one that works best. You try out 10 variations on that one. You see how this works, right.

And after 45 generations, you have this incredible nozzle. It looks a bit like a chess piece — functions absolutely brilliantly. We have no idea why it works, no idea at all.

And the moment you step back from the God complex — let’s just try to have a bunch of stuff; let’s have a systematic way of determining what’s working and what’s not — you can solve your problem.

This talk has challenged me to keep a trial & error lifestyle, without regrets.

The lesson here for entrepreneurs is to: adapt quickly, experiment often, and continually try new things.