My favorite books on innovation are about how to think – not what to think. Their work is primarily about mindset because it drives creativity, culture, and competency – the commensurate skills for leading innovation. These books by the following authors will challenge your thinking and help you make innovation happen:
1. The Knowledge Series by Daniel Boorstin
• The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination
• The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know His World and Himself
• The Seekers: The Story of Man’s Continuing Quest to Understand His World
Why: Boorstin was professor of history at Univ. of Chicago and went on to be the National Archivist. A towering intellect, Boorstin demonstrates with great clarity how innovations emerge as a confluence of factors coming together across time. The series of books is a heavy lift, but well worth it.
2. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye by Rudolf Arnheim.
Why: Harvard and Michigan Professor, Arnheim not only gave us the term “visual thinking,” he is also the overlooked progenitor of the design thinking movement. Consider that his widely popular publications on the subject start in the early 1930s. His subtle influence on the integration of design into product development cannot be over stated.
3. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan.
Why: Consider that this book was published in 1964. McLuhan’s prescience was remarkable. For example, he predicted the internet a half a century before it occurred. His first principals are quirky, memorable, and useful to this day.
4. Janus: A Summing Up by Arthur Koestler
Why: Koestler was a brilliant but controversial man. He published the modern seminal work on creativity in 1963 – The Act of Creation. He also wrote Darkness at Noon which you will find on many lists of the 100 most important novels 20th Century. Koestler was a pioneer in what we now deem “emergence theory” and interweaves cognitive psychology into an integrated and holistic view of creativity.
5. Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business by Dorothy Leonard and Walter Swap
Why: The fundamental challenge of innovation is that talent doesn’t scale. From great chefs to relief pitches, the fortunes of companies are won and lost by their abilities to attract and develop wise and imaginative people. Leonard and Swap delve into the realm of educational psychology to give us an approach to diversify and sustain the innovator gene pool.
1. Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age by Tom Peters
Why: Bombastic and confrontational, Peters’ did more to make complex ideas fun and accessible than any contemporary author since Peter Drucker. He champions the role of women, the importance of diversity, and need for a more humanistic view of leadership. Peters is the patron saint of young and old idealists everywhere who work to make commerce more meaningful. Don’t be sandbagged by his common man persona. He is one sharp cookie.
My own work on innovation is greatly influenced by my Univ. of Michigan colleagues Robert Quinn and Kim Cameron, as well as Karl Weick and the late C.K. Prahalad. Anything they wrote is worth reading.
What are your most influential reads on innovation? More importantly, why?
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