A friend recently asked me for book or article recommendations on innovation as a general topic.
I thought about it and, since nothing specific was emphasized, I gave it a try based on my own reading preference.
The book list includes three categories:
- Appetizers are books that got me through the door of exploration over the years. They inspired me to think widely and deeply about innovation.
- Entrée includes books that helped me do things towards maximizing the possibility for change. Not for innovation though, as innovation can never be self-proclaimed, it’s merely a praise from others when they look back at the legacy of what you did quite a while ago. Those books are pretty serious stuff, and the topics vary.
- Desserts are further discourses that helped me think and rethink what I learned from my own practice.
So here it is, a rather personal reading list on innovation, with my rather personal comments–
- The Myths of Innovation is the best first book on the topic. Period.
- Reimagining Design: Unlocking Strategic Innovation tells you some interesting stories about one person’s innovation journey. Cliché? Yeah, maybe a little bit, but at least it feels like an honest attempt at it, instead of an extravaganza of survivorship bias.
- Where Good Ideas Come from: The Natural History of Innovation is a popular read for the lighthearted general audience.
- Scale: The Universal Laws of Growth, Innovation, Sustainability, and the Pace of Life in Organisms, Cities, Economies, and Companies offers a cross-disciplinary cosmic view that puts innovation’s role where it humbly belongs. Humility is part of that understanding.
- How Innovation Works: Serendipity, Energy and the Saving of Time is another popular attempt to debunk the myths of innovation. Easy and neat.
- Thinking in Systems: A Primer is another entry-level book where you learn about humility. It really helps to know that innovation is arguably never a lone effort, but the accumulative result of many moving parts in complex systems. You have to have that humility in mind when you think about innovation.
Entrée (Main Course)*
- The Dance of the Possible: the mostly honest completely irreverent guide to creativity is the best concise book that actually teaches you to become creative. Lots of necessary insights and applicable advice.
- Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries provides a fascinating lens to look at the environment where innovation happens. It’s thought-provoking and it points to deeper issues behind what makes or hinders innovative efforts.
- The Evolution of Revolutions: How We Create, Shape, and React to Change is a gift from my dear friend and co-author Andre. A very different point of view with lots of interesting stories. Loved it.
- The Innovation Delusion: How Our Obsession with the New Has Disrupted the Work That Matters Most is a serious critique on the innovation as a hype and the resulting mindset that hurts, instead of help, the society. It’s kind of an antithesis of innovation. Opinionated and flawed, but if you really believe in innovation, then you have to read it and face the shattering vibrations of its official opposition.
- Framing Play Design: A Hands-on Guide for Designers, Learners and Innovators introduces the role of play in a lot of serious, practical work. Different framing, different angle, same awesomeness.
- Overcrowded: Designing Meaningful Products in a World Awash with Ideas puts the evolutionary role of criticism, trust and synergy in its rightful place and reveals what people often unintentionally or intentionally ignores – the social aspect of a creative environment. Not cultural aspect, not procedural aspect, not managerial, operational, industrial, strategic, leadershipish aspect. Eye-opening.
- Design Innovation and Integration provides seriously useful tools and templates for approaching serious things. Like a set of exercises you really want to try out in a gym.
- Expertise: A Philosophical Introduction makes you think deeply about what expertise means. That discourse is critical to how you think about innovation, since innovation is often the result of expertises being ingeniously applied in unprecedented ways.
- Future Ethics gives you a heads-up on, well, the future of ethics. Innovation is not irresponsible change.
- The Infinite Game: How Great Businesses Achieve Long-lasting Success urges you to think about mindset in the context of business and organization. Doing business is framed as playing a game. This is very relevant to innovation, because sometimes innovation is indeed about changing the game.
- Creative Clarity: A practical guide for bringing creative thinking into your company provides very practical methods and tips on bootstrapping creative thinking. The notion of creative clarity is very useful to framing what a company wants to do.
- The Art Of The Long View: Planning For The Future In An Uncertain World is simply great read. Maybe forget about innovation for a sec, and meditate about the long view for a while. Highly recommended.
- Principles of Systems Science is the kind of serious sh*t you absolutely don’t want to swallow unless you’re utterly serious about gaining a deeper understanding of systems science. Serious as in dead serious.
- Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results again brings you out of innovation’s tunnel vision and lifts you to a higher ground, with a wider perspective and a nobler cause.
- WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us is kinda dated but if you haven’t read it, then you have to. Some insights can only be gained from its author Tim O’Reilly.
- Design Play Change: A Playful Introduction to Design Thinking is a lighthearted attempt to introduce some design thinking best practices to wider audiences. It’s actually kind of at-level with the Stanford d.school Library, only better.
- The Anthropocene Reviewed: Essays on a Human-Centered Planet is the sense of humanity you need before, during and after thinking about innovation. Being humane is just far more important than being innovative.
- Happy is Up, Sad is Down: 65 Metaphors for Design is just delightful. Lots of resonant insights. You don’t have to agree with every metaphor but you’ll definitely enjoy the thoughts they provoke.
- The Innovation Matrix is a bag of tricks. Useful from time to time.
- Unflattening is the art and zen of philosophical discourse in graphic form. A great example of innovative form.
What do you think? Feel free to comment and add your own recommended innovation readings!
*Entrée or main course? Okay, this is kinda tricky – according to Wikipedia, “entrée” means main course in US and Canada except Quebec; while it means appetizer in Quebec, even for English-speaking Québecois.