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The Myths of Innovation 103

cgjherr writes "Ah, the technology history book, normally I'm not a fan. The writing is aloof and dry. The topics are vague, the history misinterpreted, and the lessons presented too vague to be applicable. And don't get me started on the illustrations, which are all too often pyramids with the authors perched at the top looking down on the lowly reader at the base. Thankfully, this book, "the myths of innovation" breaks all of these rules. It's an engaging, fun and quick read. The history is interesting, and the lessons presented are practical. I particularly like the author's tone. It's witty and light. Which makes this a very fast read, one that leaves you wanting even more by the end." Read below for the rest of Jack's review.
The Myths of Innovation
author Scott Berkun
pages 176
publisher O'Reilly
rating Excellent
reviewer Jack Herrington
ISBN 0596527055
summary The history of innovation with lessons learned
The myths of innovation is about how innovation happens in the real world in companies, universities and garages around the company. The first two chapters really draw the reader in by showing the twin fallacies of the epiphany moment and the historically clean line of innovation. Learning that innovation doesn't just come as a flash, and that lots of successes have come out of copious failure encourages us to try to innovate, and to keep trying even when we believe we have failed.

This short book (147 pages of content) is presented in ten short chapters. The first two show you how anyone can be an innovator. You can think of those as the debunking chapters. The third chapter is where the author starts helping you to build some techniques to innovate. He presents how there are some reasonable methods to spur innovation and shows examples from Apple, Google, Edison, Craiglist and more.

In chapter four he shows how to overcome peoples fears of innovation and overcome the common problems with the adoption of new technologies. Chapter five, "the lone innovator", debunks the legend of, well, the lone innovator. It sounds good, and plays into our noble story of the hero, but it's not common in reality. Chapter six talks about ideas and surveys where innovators have found the ideas that they start out with. Of course, where you start is often not where you end but that's ok, since innovation is a lot more about failure than it is about success.

Chapter seven covers something I think most of us can relate to, which is that managers aren't often the innovators. Chapter eight talks about how we believe that the "best ideas always win" but that's least often the case. This sounds pessimistic, but it's actually an interesting study in how the biggest product with the most feature isn't always the best for the customer. Chapter nine, "problems and solutions", talks about framing problems to constrain the creativity and innovation. The final chapter, "innovation is always good", is at the same time the most amusing and disturbing. It covers innovations from the automobile to DDT and presents that innovation, no matter what, is always good. Agree or disagree the points are well presented.

As I say I really enjoyed this book. It's an easy read that is hard to put down. What's more it's really motivating. After reading this book you will want to dig right back into those crazy ideas lurking around in the back of your mind and give them another shot. With this book, you will have a few more tools at your disposal to turn your ideas into reality.

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The Myths of Innovation

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  • by Kazrath ( 822492 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @03:25PM (#19242985)
    Isn't the whole point of innovation to come up with some new idea. Reading a book about how to innovate may give assistance in helping to broaden your ability to "Think outside the box". The title leads me to believe that I will become an innovator just by mimicking someone else.

    I truly believe inventors or true innovators are not made but born. Anyone can learn to do something but only people with a knack or talent will do it well.

  • by jcgf ( 688310 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @03:34PM (#19243123)

    I truly believe inventors or true innovators are not made but born. Anyone can learn to do something but only people with a knack or talent will do it well.

    Beliefs like that lead one down the road of mediocrity.

  • The execution of an invention might be done in the group, but the innovation is ALWAYS A SINGLE IDEA IN A SINGLE PERSON

    Yes and no. Innovative ideas tend to happen inside environments that are conductive to them. i.e. I may come up with a brilliant idea, but that's only after having bounced 50 related ideas off my coworkers. For some types of innovation, you may even need access to equipment and tools before you can develop the idea in the first place.

    As for execution, is an idea really innovative if you can't execute it? The best someone can do in that situation is write a paper and hope someone else spends the resources. To effectively execute an idea, you pretty much always need infrastructure to support its development. The "lone innovator" tends to lack that infrastructure, and is thus usually unsuccessful in his attempts to execute.
  • Execution isn't innovation, anymore than marketing is

    See, I have to disagree. Take the Nintendo Wii as an example. Motion sensors exist in the PS3. They exist in Gameboy games. They exist in PC Joy[sticks|pads]. So why is the Wii so innovative?

    The answer lies in its execution. It's a balls-to-the-wall embracing of an immature technology because someone, somewhere had the idea that the market was ready for it. Once the initial concept was sketched out, you can bet that dozens of ideas were tossed around to come up with the Wii Remote we see today. Some of it was driven by necessity (e.g. "We need to support classic games, so what if we made it an NES controller when turned sideways?") and some of it was probably driven by thoughts about how to utilize the ideas already developed. (e.g. "We added the IR to deal with the dead reckoning drift, but what if we also used it as a mouse cursor?") The resulting package is highly innovative, even if the individual ideas are not. (Or at least, "mildly" innovative.)

    Innovation simply doesn't develop in a vacuum. :-)
  • by scribblej ( 195445 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:10PM (#19243721)
    Beliefs like that lead one down the road of mediocrity.

    Seconded. I'm not a brilliant programmer because I was born coding. I'm not a brilliant programmer because I have a "knack" or "innate talent." I'm a brilliant programmer because I spend all of my time studying and doing it; I work very hard to draw distinctions other people miss, and I seek out feedback and seek to always improve.

    The GP's suggestion that some people are just "naturally" good at some things shows a startling lack of understanding about the educational process. You show me a good XYZer and I'll show you someone who's put a lot of effort into XYZing.

    Those people who you hear about who are "naturally talented" fall into one of two categories:

    1) They are talented and spent a lot of time and effort getting that way, you just fail to see the time and effort -- you are just seeing the "end product."


    2) They aren't actually talented at anything except selling themselves and a cursory examination of their "talents" will prove this.

  • Not enough monkeys (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sane? ( 179855 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:11PM (#19243733)

    "Chapter five, "the lone innovator", debunks the legend of, well, the lone innovator. It sounds good, and plays into our noble story of the hero, but it's not common in reality."

    In my experience each and every innovation can trace its roots back to one key insight in the mind of one person. The group can help, support, enhance and develop that insight, but without it and that key individual - there is nothing.

    It doesn't matter how many monkeys you have, you're still not producing Shakespeare.

  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:24PM (#19243949) Homepage
    The reviewer starts off talking about books on the history of technology - but the impression I took away from the review is that "Myths of Innovation" isn't a history book, but a self help/motivation book that uses historical anecdotes and case studies to support it's conclusions. A bit of apples and oranges really.
  • by paintswithcolour ( 929954 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:30PM (#19244045)
    Your example is interesting, but not really decisive. A counter-argument could be thus: Programming is a 'craft' like woodwork or building a house, now I could read books and spend years learning how to build a house and maybe I could put it into practice. I could learn from building that house and perhaps build a better house. But what I couldn't necessarily do is innovate a whole new and better way of living. Now it could be argued that people are born with is an innate creativity to approach the problem differently, an artist does not become brilliant through imitation but by innovation. That dosen't mean education isn't important but there's a spark to take that and run with it that dosen't exist for everyone.
  • by ranton ( 36917 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @04:31PM (#19244071)
    So what do you consider to be an innovation?

    Virtually all innovations are incremental improvements. Creating a new way for the internal combustion engine to work would be very innovative, but is just an incremental improvement on our current engines. A new drivetrain with less loss of horsepower from the cranshaft to the wheel would be a great innovation, but would still just be an incremental improvement on our current cars.

  • by moderatorrater ( 1095745 ) on Wednesday May 23, 2007 @08:43PM (#19246965)
    Hmm, apparently you're not familiar with the writing climate when Shakespeare was around, where it basically guarantees that, first off, Shakespeare's plays were helped along by multiple other people and that they were probably rewritten many times by people other than Shakespeare by the time we got them.

    The same thing occurs with good innovations. The best innovations I've seen were when someone walked up to a whiteboard and five of us critiqued his idea, trimmed and added to it until it was a truly great idea.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern