on May 19, 2007
Scott Berkun has written a great little book on debunking the myths of innovation. He uses the myths to help explain how innovation happens. He also delves into some of the reasons for why these myths are popular and then proceeds to provide some insights on how to approach innovation without falling prey to these myths.
He starts the book with a great story of when he visited Google's head quarters and joined a tour group. He describes the moment when two of his co-tourists whispered to each other pointing over to a group of programmers "I see them talking and typing, but when do they come up with their ideas". This lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. It's a question many people ask of any creative/innovative person. Scott continues to explore our fascination with innovation and our desire to find the hidden secrets. Like all myths, the ones behind innovation are derived from quaint stories from history; Newton's Apple, Archimedes' bath tub.
Each chapter addresses one of the main myths and exposes the real path to innovation:
- the myth of epiphany,
- we understand the history of innovation,
- there is a method for innovation,
- people love new ideas,
- the lone inventor
- and many more.
The book is a fun read, and Scott has a very witty writing style. His stories and personal experiences help to explain some of his counter-intuitive demythologizing. As always the classic sign of a book I love, is that by the end I have many pages highlighted and copious notes written down the margins. Scott's book definitely fell into the category of `stimulating'. Even when I disagreed with him, I agreed with his underlying point.
I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in innovation. If you believe innovation is only open to lone geniuses or you are waiting for the proverbial apple of a good idea to fall on your head, then you NEED to read this book immediately!!
Scott has done a great service by debunking many of cherished myths that hold many people back from innovating. It is ironic that a book that aims to destroy innovation myths actually provides a set of insights that will help anyone come up with ideas (whether they work at Google or not).
Inventor of ThinkCube
(review of 2nd edition - 10/03/2010)
"Innovation" is a word that gets used so often in marketing hype that it seems to have lost its meaning. Scott Berkun sets out to reclaim the word and offer up a true definition in his book The Myths of Innovation. I found this book so compelling while reading it on my iPad that I ended up figuring out how to do highlighting as there were many points I wanted to remember and ponder.
Table of Contents:
The myth of epiphany; We understand the history of innovation; There is a method for innovation; People love new ideas; The lone inventor; Good ideas are hard to find; Your boss knows more about innovation than you; The best ideas win; Problems and solutions; Innovation is always good; Epilogue - Beyond hype and history; Creating thinking hacks; How to pitch an idea; How to stay motivated; Research and recommendations
One of the reasons this book resonated so deeply with me is due to my view of how people add importance to events that weren't critical at the time. For instance, a particular battle may be touted as the turning point of a war, and a commander's decision a brave and ingenious move. But the battle could have just as well been lost, no one would have written it up, and some other potential outcome would have decided the war. We seem to think that the outcome we received was the only possible course, and that's incorrect. Quoting Berkun: "Yes, when we look at any history timeline, we're encouraged to believe that other outcomes were impossible. Because the events on timelines happened, regardless of how bizarre or unlikely, we view them today as predetermined." I'm glad to see that Myths fights back against this common belief.
Looking more directly at innovation, Berkun reveals another myth that bugs me to no end. "The dilemma is that, at any moment, it's difficult to know whether we're witnessing progress or merely, in a hill-climbing distraction, a short-term gain with negative long-term consequences." We can't know how things are going to turn out, and there are far too many examples of ideas and "innovations" that were found out later to have horrible long-term effects. DDT, anyone?
Just one more example that caused me to do a "yes!" when I was reading... We attach major significance to objects that, at the time, were common. The Rosetta Stone is thought to be one of the most significant discoveries and artifacts ever found. But the text on the stone is nothing but basic, everyday communication to the people of the time. It would be like someone discovering a piece of our junk mail 1000 years from now and declaring it a significant piece of 21st century communication. Yet at the time, we throw it away. Because we look at the Rosetta Stone as enabling us to decipher ancient languages, we tend to revere the stone itself. But it's really just a common thing that happened to survive the centuries, and we've attached significance to the item that wasn't intended when it was first created.
Berkun goes on in the later chapters to help you understand the true nature of innovation, as well has how the process of getting and developing ideas is available to any of us. Coming away from reading Myths, you should understand that innovation is hard work, it's not a single event, and your ideas build upon the ideas of others. In addition, what you think your idea is good for and what actually happens to it could be two entirely different things. When the first HTML page was built and put on a network for sharing, no one could have imagined what the Internet would end up becoming.
The Myths of Innovation is a top-notch read, and one that you should plan on revisiting often...
Obtained From: Publisher
on December 9, 2009
I enjoyed reading this book, it was a quick light-hearted read. While I didn't learn anything earth-shattering, it was a nice way to pass a few hours and to inspire a bit of brain-storming. The author did try to inject humour in his writing, but much of it came across as rather cheesy.
If that is what you're after, then this book is fine. If you're after something more serious, then I would suggest looking elsewhere.
The author doesn't appear to have done any real research aside from surfing the web and chatting to people in bars. The book reads more like a personal blog of somebody who spends a lot of time reading about innovation. About half of the books "citations" were to web-pages (many of which are now dead links).
Overall this book comes across as an earnest attempt by a "pro-am". I suspect that it would have made for a great blog if the author turned each chapter into a post; but as a book it just feels cheesy and lacking real substance or authority.
I would have given it only one or two stars on the basis of the content, if not for the fact that the light-hearted tone made it enjoyable to read. So, overall, it's "Okay".
on June 11, 2007
Have you ever been to a party and met someone with a great job and a great sense of humor and ended up spending the entire party drinking beer and swapping interesting stories? That's what Scott Berkun's new book, "The Myths of Innovation", felt like to me. There are lots of books on my shelf that I know I ought to read, and many of them I struggle through and afterwards feel like it was a valuable investment of my time, however painful. This wasn't one of them - this is one of those rare books that feels like reading for pleasure, and yet you learn something along the way.
And I might add that the colophon alone is worth the price of the book (a sentence that perhaps has never been written).
I wonder how much time and research Berkun did on this book before he came up with the idea of orienting the book around myths? Was that the idea all along? Or did it emerge over time? Because it turns out to be a perfect way of presenting the material. First, everyone loves to feel like they know something that other people don't - the truth behind the myths. This "peeking behind the curtain" approach is a great way to keep the material interesting. Second, innovation is such a complex area that it would be very difficult to write a book about what innovation is -- it's a lot easier to talk about what it isn't. But by providing the boundaries via the myths, it inevitably provides great insight into how innovation really happens. And third, myth debunking seems to fit Berkun's auctorial voice. His casual, conversational tone is not only funny and engaging, but it naturally allows the type of speculation and interpretation that is necessary for the topic. In other words, a textbook-style examination of innovation would be a very poor choice.
While I enjoyed the entire book, I particularly enjoyed in the section on the myth of "the best idea wins". In it, Berkun describes the many factors that are involved in whether an innovation succeeds, and how being the "best" is only one of many factors. When it comes to design innovation in established software, the impact of "dominant design" is always a challenge - what is the cost of moving to something better when you have a large customer base who already knows how to use the product? One example in the book is the QWERTY keyboard that we all know and loathe. But to lesser degree this is always the case - I can't convince my wife to move from Paint to Photoshop for editing pictures because she knows how to use Paint. Whenever I try to tell her about how many great features there are in Photoshop, all she hears is "blah... blah... blah... [it will take lots of time to learn]... blah... blah... blah."
I recommend this book highly to anyone who has a job where innovation matters... which is just about everyone.
on May 28, 2007
Not really. In this book Scott does a great job debunking the commonly held myths about innovation in a witty, approachable style. If you've ever wondered how innovation happens, or how to improve the innovativeness and creativity of your team this book is worth a read.
I particularly enjoyed the insight in chapter 4- people don't really love new ideas, but you'll find similar gems throughout the book.
I gave it only 4 stars, because after I'd finished reading the book I came away wanting something more (though lots of great references and links are provided) - perhaps more stories to get involved in, or just to enjoy Scott's humor for a while longer.
Overall I recommend this book, you'll gain some new insights and a new perspective on your old ones.
on June 12, 2007
Berkun's book is small, concise, and a very good read on what innovation really is -- not the myths and stories we've come to associate with major breakthroughs.
Newton's discoveries about gravity, legends to the contrary, didn't come from inspration after he got hit on the head by an apple; instead his breakthroughs came about after years and years of work in the field. All of Newton's prior experiences combined to give him the ability to meld everything together and come up with some unique ideas.
Berkun repeats this idea throughout this short, highly enjoyable book: Innovation is very, very rarely some epiphany moment where an idea is spawned completely out of the blue. Instead, innovation, inspiration, and epiphanies are the product of having laid the groundwork in many different ways.
Berkun talks about this groundwork in several different fashions. He talks about how good managers set up an environment which fosters creativity and innovation (think old Microsoft, current Google, SemTech in Brazil), how innovators are able to build off their prior experiences, and a number of other critical factors.
The book's well-written, and it's a physical pleasure to read. The book's small size, pleasant paper, and great photographs all combine for an "innovative" experience.
on December 8, 2008
This book is structured as a set of chapters, each focusing on a supposed "myth of innovation" that the author then shoots down and explains why the myth isn't true.
The problem that I had was that I didn't believe in the myths in the first place. Instead, I felt that they were strawman arguments put up there to be easily disputed.
It would have been a heck of a lot more meaningful to me had I felt like he was challenging my thinking about the world. Instead, it seemed to me more that he was stating the obvious.
Because of this I was bored reading through this and felt like there was very little real content.
Are these *really* myths? Do people really believe these myths in the first place? Or are they mythical myths?
on June 25, 2007
There is little in this book that is new. These topics have been written about over and over. It doesn't even include any surprising "myths" to make it clever. He is entertaining to read in parts because he tells some nice historical stories, but after awhile you ask, "Where's the beef?" I supose if you are new to the idea of innovation this book might have some value for you. But mostly, when you are done, you will understand little more about innovation than when you started. What is perverse is that after he shoots down an obvious myth (innovation done by a single individual) he gets all confused about the differences between innovation and invention. He is also another, in a long list of authors (think Tom Peters), who want to make the process of innovation seem like a random miracle. This is a myth. Yes there is risk, but there are things you can do to mitigate it. For proof go ask GM about Toyota. In earlier times, think about all the innovations that Edison produced. Hey, look at Apple for a modern example. Have you bought your iPhone yet? Do you really think that the success Steve Jobs is having is because of luck?
on June 21, 2007
Scott Berkun's book is one that would be best paired with John Allen Paulos "Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences". Both are books not about the subject itself (innovation and math, respectfully) but about human reaction to it. In Paulos' case, it is how we simplify numbers and draw the wrong conclusions. In Berkun's case, it is how we "remember" how things come to be and draw the wrong conclusions.
In the book, Berkun reviews several "myths" of innovation. The myths are mostly human short cuts our minds take to help either a) process information or b) transmit the information to other people. We humans constantly simply the complex for reasons only understood in deep neurological science. Berkun could have just as easily written a very similar book on national polices (look at heath care), education, or marriage.
It is good to remember the complexity and we do need to do that in the area of creativity. I found Berkun's style a bit hard to read. I had to go over many passages several times as the sentence constructs were difficult. This happened frequently when he was injecting some levity into the area. For the most part, it was easily digested and help pass a long plane fight.
I recommend the book for, if nothing else, it will remind you that the world is not as simple as we think it is.
The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun is not a book about famous innovation fables - although there is some debunking going on in the book. No, Myths of Innovation looks at several commonly held beliefs and attempts to provide a social, historical and economic analysis of the "myth" and then consider what's true, and what's not true, about that commonly held belief. Berkun looks at innovation myths such as:
* Epiphanies - do ideas spring up from the "whole cloth"?
* Innovation methods
* Whether or not people love new ideas
* The myth of the "lone inventor"
* Whether or not the "best" ideas win
There are plenty of commonly held beliefs or myths around innovation, which Berkun does a great job investigating. What's great about his book is that it is not advocating for or against innovation, but putting innovation in a context. He simultaneously demonstrates that innovation is simpler and less complex than we believe, and often more complex and difficult than we believe. His book is less a "how to innovate" book and more of a social commentary on innovation from an interested observer's point of view. He mixes a lot of history and commentary in the discussion of each myth.
After all, anyone who can include the famous Lloyd Dobler quote : "
I don't want to sell anything, buy anything or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought or processed, or repair anything sold, bought or processed.
has got to have the confidence of his material while retaining a tongue planted firmly in cheek.
This was probably one of the most interesting books I've read about innovation in quite a while. There's no story, no plot and very little "how to" in the book - more a historical and social commentary on innovation over time. Myths of Innovation reminds me of some of the "popular" history books by authors like Stephen Ambrose, who point out all of the economic, technological and societal factors that shape important technologies or events. However, Berkun writes with a style more in line with Berkeley Breathed than Herodotus.
This is a great book if you are interested in innovation and want to learn more about the commonly held beliefs and how to overcome them. It is also an interesting commentary on innovation from a societal and historical point of view, and keeps a very sardonic undertone - almost as if innovation were a politician who needed to be taken down a few pegs. A few reviewers have argued there's nothing "new" in the book - but that's just the point. Apple didn't invent the MP3 player - they recognized a number of technologies that needed some packaging to create a great consumer application. Likewise Berkun didn't create innovation methodologies and doesn't advocate for them - he just points out some of the "emperor's clothes" issues about innovation given real world examples that we are already familiar with - it's not the individual concepts that are important, but the commentary and perspective.
Reposted from my Innovate on Purpose blog site review