Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Myths of Innovation Book Review

As you can probably tell if you've been following the Innovate on Purpose blog lately, I've been doing quite a lot of reading and commenting on books about innovation. As innovation takes hold of corporate America as more than just a fad, there becomes an interest in exploring how innovation works, why it works and how organizations can make it work in their operations.

So far, in the last few weeks I've looked at books that were about innovation and marketing strategy (Hidden in Plain Sight), books about the payback or returns on Innovation (Payback) and several other books. All of these books provide a view into the wide world of innovation. The book I've just finished takes an interesting tack - that of a commentary on innovation itself.

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.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 12:19 PM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's a new paperback edition of the book out with 4 new chapters:


Give me a ping with your address and I'll get a copy out to you.

Cheers -Scott

1:14 PM  
Anonymous stop pre ejaculation said...

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8:29 PM  

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