What are the essential innovation books you should read over your summer holiday? All year, we have been asking all the innovation leaders we have interviewed what books they have found most helpful in their careers.
The clear winner is The Innovator’s Dilemma, by the late, great Clayton Christensen, which is cited by nearly everyone as a must-read. If we had a pound for every time someone nominated that as a favourite, we’d have our own dilemma about what to do with all the money. But what else should you put on your reading list?
These were what our interviewees recommended. It is obviously not a complete list, so we’d love to hear more suggestions from you! Please add any favourites and obvious omissions in the comments.
I keep spare copies of Larry Keeley’s Ten Types of Innovation to give to anyone starting out in this space.
Beyond industry reads, Henry David Thoreau’s 1854 text Walden continues to provide inspiration. Whether you see his two years, two months and two days alone in the woods as social experiment or self-discovery, his purposeful innovation is present in every chapter. The book took on a new dimension during Covid-19.
The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank provides a beginner’s guide on how to think about customer-centric innovation. This book laid the foundations for a lot of literature on lean startup and customer-focused methods.
I particularly love to read entrepreneurs’ books for inspiration, as well as VC newsletters and video content.
A couple of my favourite are The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, The Lean Startup by Eric Ries and Non-Bullshit Innovation by David Rowan. Andreessen Horowitz’s content and videos are always really insightful too.
I am always looking for fresh inspiration and ideas, so I tend to steer clear of innovation books per se. Here are some of my favourites:
- Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
- Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb
- Creative Intelligence and Self-Liberation by Ted Falconar
- On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins
Former frog Dave Sherwin’s book Turning People into Teams, has a lot of strong methodologies and activities that organisations can use to collaborate around a common purpose.
But if you want to nerd out, I would recommend The Nature of Technology by WB Arthur.
I’d particularly recommend The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle and Why We Fight by Mike Martin. The second is an unconventional recommendation, but it’s full of analysis of the deepest layers of human motivations and behaviour based on the latest evolutionary psychology.
“Business books are no fun and most should be pamphlets.”
Business books are no fun and most should be pamphlets. Instead, read Enders Game by Orson Scott Card. I think it’s meant for nine-year-olds. It’s the world’s best science fiction book from the 1980s and also a pretty terrible movie from five years ago.
Takeaway #1: You can make amazing teams out of completely diverse and unrelated skill-sets, including with people who don’t fit in elsewhere. It’s how they work together to create something bigger than themselves.
To be honest, I don’t like reading books that are completely within my field of expertise. Similar to where I see the most value in terms of corporate innovation — adjacent to the current business — I prefer reading or learning about things that are adjacent to my day-to-day work. An intriguing read in that regard is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s work Antifragile.
It would have to be Design, Form and Chaos by Paul Rand.
His presentations of the IBM and Next logos are an amazing example of a beautiful line drawn from inception to execution. You can see the genesis and journey of each idea, all up to a grand reveal on the final page.
Ironically, it’s also a brilliant example of how not to work. In today’s age it should never be about the grand reveal. Designers need to bring people — users and clients — into the process to make, test and learn together, ensuring we design, launch and scale the right thing in the right way.