Doug Garnett’s Blog


Doug’s Innovation Bookshelf

Here’s an all new bookshelf of reading for those who create innovative new products and services or bring them to market.

These are not “innovation” books. I have ceased to read typical innovation books because they are usually incredibly shallow attempts by consulting firms to claim they’ve discovered the single thing that drives success.

No single thing drives success. Truth is better revealed in the glory of its complexity by reading history – national, political and corporate. In this writing we learn about organizations & societies as well as how they face their challenges. Of course, I also like a few business books and have noted some below.

Hopefully these books offer some provocative surprises. Let’s start with history.

To Pixar and Beyond, by Lawrence Levy. Pixar’s CFO tells the story of the adventure starting from great animation, through IPO, and to Disney purchase. Quite a unique viewpoint.

Failure is not an Option, by Eugene Kranz. One of the key actors at the core of American space success in the 1960s and 1970s tells his story at the center of the creation of Mission Control.

Flight: My Life in Mission Control, by Cristopher Kraft. We can’t read Gene Kranz without also reading Chris Kraft. While Kranz focus on details, Kraft helps us see a more strategic sense of mission control and the development of NASA. Both are critically needed.

Skunk Works by Ben Rich and Kelly by Kelly Johnson. Lockheed’s Skunkworks are important to study by anyone involved with innovating. This group achieved incredible things with low budgets — because of the way they operated.

How Music Got Free: A Story of Obsession and Invention, by Stephen Witt. This is less focused on a corporation than other books on this list, but by wandering the world of Napster, free music, stolen music, and the industry response we learn a tremendous amount about a time of big mythology with few known facts.

The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester. This is a superb book follows the history of how increasing precision drove innovation — and with good observations about when that might lead us astray.

Organizing Genius, by Warren Bennis & Patricia Ward Biederman. Bennis tells the story of a range of genius organizations – from Disney and Skunk Works to Black Mountain College. Very challenging reading for denizens of bureaucracy.

Paper – Paging Through History, by Mark Kurlansky. This book covers the invention and development of paper throughout the world and throughout history. It also follows how paper affected society and how society’s needs drove improvement in paper. Innovation remains possible in even the most, apparently, mundane areas.

The Second World War — Volumes 1-6, by Winston Churchill. When I hear anyone suggest kids need to learn algebra in order to learn how to solve problems, I suggest they should learn about Churchill instead. He created a future for England when no nations, other than the UK nations, were helping England confront the aggression of Hitler. This is told in his words – so it has flaws. But that also makes it a very unique viewpoint of a time when failure was not an option.

The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. Out of our technological past, this story about Data General and the creation of a machine to compete with Digital Equipment is a classic – it doesn’t matter what generation of technology you work with.

The Idea Factory, by Jon Gertner. This history of Bell Labs should remind us of a time when big things were done by encouraging genius in companies and giving genius the freedom to discover incredible things.

Here are four key business books I recommend for anyone involved with innovation:

It’s Not Complicated: The Art and Science of Complexity in Business, by Rick Nason. This is not your typical business book. Nason writes deeply and avoids the cheap answers that pester us elsewhere. Here he explored the tendency of business to assume all problems are complicated – meaning they can be solved with methods, algorithms, and bureaucracy. Then he contrasts this with the truth that many business success comes from solving the complex problems.

Rethinking Risk Management: Critically Examining Old Ideas and New Concepts, by Rick Nason. Hate to double up. But Nason, a scientist who also has extensive financial experience, is not happy that risk managers are seen as “the department of no” in corporations. So looks at the need to take risks and focuses on how managing risk can actively participate in creating the opportunity for companies to grow forward.

The Halo Effect. by Phil Rosenzweig. Everyone in business — and I mean everyone — needs to read this book. He methodically discusses 9 delusions in business which are far too common – and can be seen each and every day in the hype put out on LinkedIn. There are surprises along the way when we learn some popular business books which might have excellent ideas but they misled us by claiming they are based on research.

How Brands Grow, by Byron Sharp. An understanding of how brands grow is critical for anyone involved with innovation – at least learning to reject many of the simplistic and misleading ideas that are so popular in business. This is the book to read for that understanding. My criticism is that Sharp discounts persuasion within advertising. That’s true if you are creating ads which are directly attempting to build brand. But if you are introducing new, innovative products, persuasive advertising is often the single most effective approach and leads to brand building.

For the most adventurous, let me recommend following the blog of my good friend, artist Timothy C. Ely. An artist who created a radically new medium of art, Tim encounters many of the same challenges we encounter while working with innovation and marketing. (Full disclosure:  I’m a “co-conspirator” for the blog at the moment.)

Copyright 2018 – Doug Garnett – All Rights Reserved


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