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How Stella Saved the Farm is a simple and logical book based on a story which narrates the learning process about making innovation happen. The book is divided in two parts and consists of total nineteen chapters. First part carries nine chapters and remaining are under the second part, which explains the conversion of idea into innovation and then great success. The story is about the competition of two farms one run and managed by animals (Windsor farm) and another by human beings (McGillicuddys farm). Windsor farm is working through change and innovation where the status quo is no longer good enough. Interestingly, in view of poor performance of Windsor farm McGillicuddy is hoping to take over the Windsor farm, but due to the innovations, Windsor farm crosses all hurdles and gets a remarkable status in the business.
Some Impressionistic takes from the book of
Vijay Govindarajan & Chris Trimble
“How Stella Saved the Farm “
A Tale about Making Innovation Happen
About the Authors
Recently named #3 on the esteemed Thinkers50 List by Harvard, V. G. is the Earl
C. Daum 1924 Professor of International Business and the founding director of
Tuck’s Center for Global Leadership. He was the first professor in residence and
chief innovation consultant at General Electric.
V. G. has earned such distinctions as:
Outstanding Faculty (BusinessWeek, in its “Guide to the Best B-Schools”)
Top Ten Business School Professor in Corporate Executive Education
“Superstar” Management Thinker from India (BusinessWeek)
Top Five Most Respected Executive Coach on Strategy (Forbes)
Top 50 Management Thinker (The London Times)
Outstanding Teacher of the Year (MBA students)
V. G. has worked directly with 25 percent of the Fortune 500 corporations
including Boeing, Coca-Cola, Colgate, Deere, FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, J.P.
Morgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, New York Times, Procter & Gamble, Sony,
and Walmart. He is a regular keynote speaker in CEO Forums and major
conferences including the World Innovation Forum and BusinessWeek CEO
V. G. received his doctorate and his MBA, with distinction, from the Harvard
About the Authors
CHRIS’S career mixes rigorous academic research with hard-nosed practical
experience. His interest in innovation within large organizations developed
early in his career, when he was a submarine officer in the U.S. Navy.
His article “Stop the Innovation Wars”, coauthored with Vijay Govindarajan,
won a McKinsey Award, which was recognizes the best articles in the Harvard
Business Review each year.
Chris is a frequent speaker on the topic of innovation and has spoken all over
the world. He has also advised dozens of top corporations on their innovation
challenges. Chris holds an MBA degree with distinction from the Tuck School
and a bachelor of science degree with highest distinction from the University
How Stella Saved the Farm is a simple parable about making
innovation happen, written by the authors of the New York
Times bestselling Reverse Innovation: Create Far From Home,
Win Everywhere, Vijay Govindarajan and Chris Trimble.
This story resonates in organizations of all types—public sector,
private sector, and social sector, from mammoth corporations to
small organizations employing just a few dozen people.
The parable is about a farm in trouble. Bankruptcy, or the grim
prospect of being acquired by a hostile competitor, threaten.
The farm succeeds only if the team pulls together and
The main characters in the story—Stella, Deirdre, Bull, Mav, Einstein,
Rambo, Maisie, and Andrea—are all like people you know, maybe
The tale includes an unexpected leadership challenge, an ambitious
call to action, a bold idea, countless internal obstacles and conflicts,
fears, joys, triumphs, and even a love interest.
It's a story that can be enjoyed by anyone. How Stella Saved the
Farm delivers eight simple lessons to guide innovation initiatives to
success. It prepares business leaders to avoid some of innovation's
most toxic myths, teaches how to build the right kind of team, and
shows how to learn quickly from experience.
The first chapter starts with the introduction of Deirdre, the upcoming president
of Windsor farm under the leadership of Deirdre‘s father Marcus. Marcus
leaves and the whole responsibility lies on Deirdre. Marcus is apprehensive
about the fact that someday there will be no choice other than to sell Windsor
Farm to McGillicuddy, the owner of the neighboring farm. McGillicuddy does
not respect animals and would not treat them well, which highlights the inimical
behavior of humans towards animals bringing out the yet another but brave
side of reality.
Deirdre Will Be Next to Lead Windsor Farm Marcus tells Deirdre he wants her
to take over as the farm’s leader. Deirdre doesn’t feel ready, but she cannot
refuse her father.
The other animals on the farm had expected that Bull would be the next leader,
but Marcus is worried that Bull will “run the farm just like he did.” The problem
is that even if Windsor is run with perfect efficiency, it can’t match the scale of
gigantic human-run farms and their enormous machines.
Marcus is scared that someday there will be no choice but to sell Windsor
Farm to McGillicuddy, the owner of the neighboring farm. McGillicuddy runs a
big, impersonal operation, not a family farm. He does not respect animals and
would not treat them well
Chapter -1- Question for Review
What advantages do human-run farms have over
animal-run farms like Windsor? Why does Marcus
believe the farm needs a new kind of leader?.
When a person doesn’t get promotion and recognition on time,
motivation level of concerned could decrease and may be a problem
for the whole organization. This is discussed in the second chapter.
Same happened with Bull, he was the successor of the farm but he
didn’t get the president’s post which created a lot of
misunderstanding between Deirdre and Bull. After getting the news
of relieving of Marcus, Bullwas very angry, even after Deirdre offers
to create a new role for him as chief operating officer.
Bull is Angry and Unsure of his Future.
Marcus and Deirdre break the news to Bull. He is very angry, even
after Deirdre offers to create a new role for him as chief operating
Bull’s motto is “faster, stronger, more efficient.” He wrote it on the
barn wall. Bull does not warm to the idea of working for Deirdre,
even as a chief operating officer.
Chapter -2- Question for Review
How would Bull run Windsor Farm if he were in charge?
What offer does Deirdre make to Bull to keep him on
The third chapter being more elaborate elucidates the history
of the Windsor farm that how Marcus’s grandfather converted
this farm into animal run farm successfully.
Most of the organizations are spending lots of fund on
research and developments activities for innovation.
But Windsor farm didn’t adopt it due to the involvement of
animals. Currently, farm is in problem due to the increasing
cost of production, but still they are earning profit
The Noteworthy History of Windsor Farm -Marcus dies, and
Deirdre is on her own. Windsor Farm has a rich history. It was
the site of the revolution that first led to animals running their
own farms generations earlier
Chapter -3- Question for Review
What is special about Windsor’s history?
The fourth chapter articulates that there are three major business units
in the farm: Ovine ops, Bovine ops, and Crops.
The farm was operating as efficiently as ever. But the prices for the
farm’s products were dropping across the board and squeezing profits. If
the current trend continued, Windsor could be forced out of business in
just a few years.
Now Deirdre discusses the farm’s declining performance with Bull,
Rambo, Rex, and Rob. Rambo suggests a plan to increase yarn-making
capacity through better scheduling. But, Rex recommends about new
feed for the cows that promised to increase milk production and Rob
suggests that rotation crop method.
Deirdre Under Pressure
Deirdre faces early trouble. Hail. Bugs. Sheep walking off the farm. She
asks for advice on how to improve performance. Bull responds: “I will
work harder.” Other animals respond with good ideas, but Deirdre feels
that they are insufficient. Deirdre sees McGillicuddy driving by in a
gigantic, brand-new tractor, and later dreams that McGillicuddy runs her
over with it.
Chapter -4- Question for Review
What are the trends in Windsor’s finances? When
Deirdre discusses the farm’s declining performance
with Bull and the Three Little Bulls, what do they
An appeal for bold ideas to be taken takes shape in the fifth
chapter demonstrating that new ideas, innovative thinking, and
suggestions for improvement are needed in every organization
especially for Windsor like poorly performing organizations.
The animals are very afraid of the possibility that in case of
continuous poor performance of Windsor farm, McGillicuddy
may take over the Windsor farm.
Deirdre Asks for Bold Ideas
At a farm-wide meeting, Deirdre shares her dream about
McGillicuddy’s gigantic tractor. The animals are very afraid of
the possibility that McGillicuddy will take over. Deirdre makes
an appeal for bigger and bolder ideas. She announces a “big
Chapter -5- Question for Review
How do Bull and the Three Little Bulls react to
Deirdre’s Big Idea Hunt?
The Sixth chapter informs that coincidentally Stella returns
from Peru with the idea of a new luxury wool business for the
revival of Windsor farm.
Stella Returns with a Big Idea
The Big Idea Hunt generates a handful of promising ideas.
Coincidentally, Stella returns from Peru just in time to present
an idea of her own: a new luxury wool business
Chapter -6- Question for Review
What are the positive attributes of Stella’s idea, the
luxury wool business?
Further, seventh chapter depicts that Deirdre and Bull
predicted that luxury wool is the best idea. They have
organized a big celebration to announce the name of Stella as
a winner of the big idea hunt.
Deirdre Commits to Luxury Wool Business
Deirdre and Bull decide that luxury wool is the best idea that
they have. They plan a big celebration to announce the winner
of the Big Idea Hunt. Stella is thrilled and comments, “It just
shows that you never know where your next crazy idea will
come from.” And then… the party was over. It dawns on
Deirdre that she hasn’t really thought carefully about next
Chapter -7- Question for Review
Why is Bull resistant to the idea of moving quickly into
luxury wool? What is Deirdre’s opposing point view?
What occurs to Deirdre just after celebration of farm’s
commitment to luxury wool ?
The eighth chapter portrays that Deirdre and Bull selected Mav to lead luxury
Deirdre instructed Mav to report to Rambo, since luxury wool is most closely
tied to ovine ops.
According to the Stella’s estimations the luxury wool business would consume
only one-third of the farm’s savings before it reached to the profitability, but
situation was worse than anticipated.
Deirdre was worried about the poor economic position of the farm, same day
McGillicuddy offered fair price to her in lieu of the sale of Windsor’s farm. But,
Deirdre rejected his offer straightway.
Mav Will Lead Luxury Wool
Deirdre and Bull select Mav to lead luxury wool. They could have selected
someone more senior, but that would have meant taking someone out of a
critical job running the existing business. Deirdre has Mav report to Rambo,
since luxury wool seems most like the existing sheep wool business.
At a farm-wide meeting, Mav is introduced as the leader of luxury wool. The
animals are excited, and Mav lets the animals know he will be looking for
volunteers to help him. Then, Bull reminds the animals that they must work
harder at the existing business
Chapter -8- Question for Review
Is Mav the best choice for running luxury wool? Should
Mav accept the job of leading luxury wool? Would you?
How can Rambo, Mav’s new boss, help ensure the
success of luxury wool? Should Bull be emphasizing
We Must Work Harder at a time like this?
In the ninth chapter, Mav learns how hard it is to push a new idea in an
established business. There are few rules that make sense for the core
business but same rules are hurdles in Mav’s way, such as tight standards
for bringing new animals in the farm, compensation standards, and
spending guidelines. Further, nobody seems to have enough free time to
help Mav. Deirdre is very angry about the poor performance of luxury wool
business lead by Mav.
Mav is Confronted by “The System.”
Mav learns how hard it is to push a new idea forward inside an established
business. There are “rules” that make sense for the core business that get
in Mav’s way, such as tight standards for bringing new animals on the
farm, compensation standards, and spending guidelines. And, nobody
seems to have much free time to help Mav. Bull is keeping all of the
animals extremely busy. Rambo also seems to be unable to help.
Deirdre is very angry about the lack of progress. Hadn’t she made it very
clear that the future of the farm depended on luxury wool?
Chapter -9- Question for Review
What are the motivations affecting the characters that
create difficulties for Mav? Why couldn’t Rambo help?
The idea is only the beginning in any great innovation story which is best
depicted in the tenth chapter. Deirdre realized that expecting one leader to
just go and make it happen was a woefully inadequate approach for
moving an innovative idea forward. So, she decides to give more powers
to Mav, like Mav should report directly to her and she gives a dedicated
team of three workers to Mav namely Maisie (marketing), Matt (sales), and
Max (manufacturing). Bull is angry after losing three talented people of his
team but Deirdre managed to convince Bull.
Mav Gets a Dedicated Team
Deirdre recognizes that in the contest between innovation and ongoing
operations, between Mav and Bull, Bull was going to win every time. Bull
was working the animals very hard. They were running the core business
as best possible, and this left little time for anything else.
Deirdre decides that Mav should report directly to her so that she can act
as his sponsor. Rambo is relieved that he can focus just on meeting Bull’s
demands. Deirdre gives Mav a dedicated team of three: Maisie
(marketing), Matt (sales), and Max (ops). Bull is angry to be losing three
talented people. How was he going to do his job without them?
Chapter -10- Question for Review
Is it appropriate for Deirdre to take good workers out of
the core business to help Mav? What other options did
she have, if any?
The eleventh chapter demonstrates that Deirdre called the farm-
wide meeting and stressed for giving sufficient freedom to luxury
wool business. But, Bull informed that he doesn’t expect any
better from luxury wool business. But, he was not able to come
up with a good answer for Deirdre’s argument that doing nothing
is the biggest risk of all.
The Animals React Poorly to Mav’s “Special Treatment”
The animals, because they are working so hard to please Bull,
are as angry as Bull about the loss of three people to Mav’s
team. Deirdre insists that “we must find a way to do two very
different things at the same time. We have to sustain excellence
in the existing business and build a new and uncertain one.
Nobody said that it was going to be easy.” The animals react
poorly. They want to know: Why is Mav getting special
treatment? Why does he get a dedicated team?
Chapter -11- Question for Review
Is Mav really getting special treatment? Are the other
animals being treated unfairly? Should Mav and Deirdre
try to mitigate the ill will? If so, how? Deirdre insists that
“We have to find a way to do two very different things at
the same time. We have to sustain excellence in the
existing business and build a new and uncertain one.”
Is doing both simultaneously even possible for one
Chapter twelve reveals that Deirdre knew that Stella had been
disappointed about not being involved in the luxury wool business,
because this business is the result of her idea. In view of that, Deirdre
has decided to transfer Stella from crops to ovine operations. The
foremost responsibility will be to support Rambo, according to Deirdre.
Mav and Rambo Combine Animal Care and Yarn Making Ops
The alpaca arrive. The sheep feel like the farm has been invaded by
aliens, and they wonder “are these strange creatures really the future
of the farm?” Stella works hard to bring them together.
Mav is unable to persuade Rambo to let the alpaca graze on the same
land as the sheep. As a result, the alpaca are sent to “The Back Forty,”
where they suffer. They need better grazing land to be healthy.
Meanwhile, Mav wants to use Rambo’s yarn making equipment to
produce the first few batches of alpaca yarn. Rambo resists. Deirdre
decides that the dedicated team cannot operate independently. She
insists that Rambo combine both animal care and yarn making ops
Chapter -12- Question for Review
Why do you imagine the sheep are so uncomfortable
with the alpaca? Why does Rambo insist that
the alpaca live on The Back Forty? Is Mav likely to
succeed if he and his team operate in isolation from the
rest of the farm? How does Rambo feel about Deirdre’s
decision to combine animal care and yarn making?
Chapter thirteen narrates that due to the efforts of Stella, Sheep
and Alpaca were living together peacefully. Resulting, Rambo
admitted that combined care of Sheep and Alpaca proved much
easier than he had expected. After hot discussion with Rambo,
Mav made a proposal to Deirdre for a separate manufacturing
facility for luxury wool business instead of combined yarn making
Combining Yarn Making Ops Proves a Disaster
Stella proves an able peacemaker. She helps the sheep and
alpaca get along. Once the sheep and alpaca learn to share the
same land, combining animal care operations proves easy.
However, combining yarn making just doesn’t work at all
because the processes for luxury and commodity wool are very
different. Deirdre and Mav decide to set up a separate yarn-
making operation for luxury wool after all.
Chapter -13- Question for Review
What do you think of the decision to spend the money
needed to create a separate yarn-making operation for
In chapter fourteen, Stella observed the picture of Andrea in an article,
elegantly dressed Alpaca with a rather haughty expression and the award
winner of luxury wool marketer of the year. After deliberations Mav and
Stella decided to hire Andrea in a management team for luxury wool
business. Later on, Andrea joined the Windsor farm.
Maisie, Marketing Wizard?
In an important customer visit, Maisie proves out of her depth. The customer
wants to talk about operations; Maisie wants to talk about fashion. Mav
recognizes that while Maisie was the best person on the farm for the job,
that did not mean she was the best person available for the job. Mav finds
Andrea, an alpaca wool marketing expert from Peru. Though Deirdre is
uncomfortable about hiring Andrea, she decides to “let go.” She can’t simply
try to force the new business into the mold that was most familiar to her.
Andrea insists on some important changes. Mostly, she elevates the
importance of “delivering what the customer wants” over “keeping costs
low.” Mav’s team initially resists, but Mav formally empowers Andrea to
make some critical decisions.
Chapter -14- Question for Review
How do you imagine Bull, Rambo, or the Count would
react to Andrea’s redirection of priorities? Should Mav
and Deirdre have given Andrea so much power to
make critical decisions? How do you imagine the rest
of Mav’s team is feeling now that Andrea has so much
Chapter fifteen informs that six months later Windsor farm was shipping
alpaca yarn every day. To keep up with demand, Mav was hiring more and
more Alpaca. On the other side, Alpaca starts to feel their importance and
irritating the others. There was almost a fight between the sheep and alpaca.
Mav and Rambo shout at each other during a meeting with Deirdre, who
decides to solve the problem by hiring another farm to care for some of the
A Near Brawl on the Farm
When luxury wool orders start to roll in, Deirdre shifts her focus to other
priorities. Soon, however, it is clear that conflicts on the farm are once again
on the rise. The alpaca start to feel Very Important and let their success go to
their heads, irritating the sheep. Also, Mav keeps bringing more and more
alpaca to the farm. It’s getting pretty crowded. There was almost a fight
between the sheep and alpaca. Making matters worse, the team that cared for
the animals is very busy, barely able to keep up.
Mav and Rambo yell at each other during a meeting with Deirdre, who decides
to solve the problem by hiring another farm to care for some of the sheep.
Later, she gives a rallying “We must all work together as a family” speech.
Chapter -15- Question for Review
The luxury wool business is doing well. That would
seem to be cause for celebration, but the tension
between sheep and alpaca is worse than ever. What is
going on? Should Deirdre be mediating squabbles
between alpaca and sheep? Shouldn’t Mav and
Rambo be able to work it out on their own? What do
you think of Deirdre’s temporary solution of getting help
from Chelsea Farms?
Chapter sixteen illustrates that after review Deirdre found luxury
wool business was far away behind its projections, Deirdre
decided to take the advice of an analytical person like Einstein.
Einstein suggested that put learning first, learning through
disciplined experimentation, then you will make better decisions
and the business will earn profit soon.
Einstein Insists that the Luxury Wool is an Experiment
Mav and Deirdre are trying to evaluate the progress of the luxury
wool business. Mav has not really been keeping his plans up to
date. Einstein insists that the business should be treated as a
disciplined experiment. The first priority is to learn from the
experiment. Learning leads to better results.
Chapter -16- Question for Review
Why is Deirdre struggling to evaluate the progress of
luxury wool? Why do you imagine Mav hasn’t been
paying much attention to his original plans for the
business? Is it only because Mav has somuch keeping
him busy? Is it possible to manage a new business like
a disciplined scientific experiment?
Chapter seventeen proves that Mav and Einstein are working
together to follow a disciplined process of managing an
experiment. Andrea wants to invest in marketing through social
networking websites. Einstein notes that Andrea’s idea is itself an
experiment – an experiment within the bigger experiment, the
luxury wool business. Deirdre approves the investment.
Experiments Within Experiments
Mav and Einstein work together to follow a disciplined process
for managing an experiment. Andrea wants to invest in marketing
through social networking websites. Einstein notes that Andrea’s
idea is itself an experiment – an experiment within the bigger
experiment, the luxury wool business. Deirdre approves the
Mav promises only that he’ll test the possibility as
quickly and cheaply as possible. Should that be
sufficient for Deirdre?
In chapter eighteen, it was the time for the annual performance review of
all the departments. But, after formally revising twice his plan Mav missed
his plan by a mile. Deirdre was holding Mav accountable for not
generating profits but Einstein convinced Deidre, that it’s not the correct
time to judge the business and Mav. So they postpone the review for few
Time for Performance Reviews
Deirdre doesn’t know how to evaluate Mav’s performance. He has
missed the plan by a mile. She recalls that Marcus was unflinching in
holding managers accountable for poor performance. Bull was the
Deirdre had an instinct that Mav should be evaluated by different
standards because he managed a new business. But what standards?
Einstein persuades Deirdre that Mav can be evaluated on the basis of
how well he managed a disciplined experiment. Deirdre delays Mav’s
review, but rattles him by setting very specific expectations that lay out
what “managing a disciplined experiment” really means.
Has Mav failed? What do you think would happen to
Mav at this point if Bull were in charge of the farm?
This chapter reflects that several months later with the support
of Einstein and others luxury wool business was on the top and
earning handsome amount of profit.
Now they had no need to sell Windsor farm to McGillicuddy,
because Mav and his team had tested and resolved all major
uncertainties related to luxury wool business.
In Deirdre’s view, “it was innovation that made us great in the
first place and it is only through innovation that we can remain
The book vividly focuses on a handful of the most fundamental
principles for managing an innovation initiative, not to
thoroughly scrutinize the subject.
The book thus is short, easy- to-read book that easily and
gradually makes one to comprehend effective management
style of an innovation plan.
The realistic approach to the book is deteriorated as characters
are the farm animals with unoriginal roles which in turn reduce
the value of the story.
Mav is excited to receive a favorable performance review.
However, luxury wool is still draining resources. Money is tight;
tensions are high.
Bull asks the animals to work harder still, and the animals start
They can’t take it anymore. Einstein explains his analysis …
that if the farm can just hold on for three months longer, all will
be fine. Deirdre gives another inspiring speech.
Was Einstein the best animal to explain that luxury
wool was on a clear trajectory to success? Why?
What could Mav have done differently to keep the
animals on his side, even during the periods of
Learning’s for Application
In any great innovation story, the idea is only the beginning.
Asking one leader to “just go make it happen” is a woefully inadequate
approach to moving an innovative idea forward
Building the Team
Assign to a dedicated team any activities that are beyond the narrow,
specialized capabilities of your existing organization.
Build the dedicated team as though you are building a new and different
company from the ground up.
Conflicts between the dedicated team and the existing organization are
inevitable. Nonetheless, you must nurture a healthy partnership between
Planning and Assessing Progress
Put learning first—learning through disciplined experimentation. If you
do, you’ll make better decisions and you’ll get to profitability sooner.
Gather evidence to validate each major expenditure.
Evaluate the innovation leader based on whether he or she executed a