The Making of an Innovation Master
A workshop attendee asked me this seemingly simple question: "So, what else should I read to learn more about innovation?"
It's a hard question to answer because there is so much high-quality material out there. And specific recommendations depend on the specific topic about which you are most curious. But in thinking it through, I did eventually end up with a highly personal list I call "The Masters of Innovation" (which appears in my latest book). My intent was to provide a simple entry point to innovation literature by describing people I've found consistently insightful, distilling their key lesson to a single sentence, and pointing to where to go to learn more. To see my selections, click here.
So what makes a Master? I didn't create any kind of ranking algorithm while making my choices, but did consider three basic criteria:
- Do the individual's ideas bring clarity to the quest of improving the predictability and productivity of innovation?
- Are the ideas presented in a way that a practitioner can put them to work immediately?
- To what degree has the person's work affected me personally?
These three questions lead to obviously biased selections. For example, I'm sure that most innovation practitioners wouldn't put baseball researcher Bill James on their list, but his mission to find patterns, develop theories, and overturn orthodoxy has greatly influenced my own thinking. Michael Mauboussin doesn't write about innovation, but his clear writing that blends finance, strategy, and psychology puts him on my list. Some readers have asked why I put A.G. Lafley and not Steve Jobs on my list. While Jobs and everything he accomplished at Apple is certainly worth studying, in my mind Lafley is a better role model for practitioners. After all, Lafley's bent is to manage innovation in a systematic, disciplined way. From everything I've read, Jobs's approach relied more on his singular genius. It's much easier to become more disciplined than to become more of a genius!
There were a ton of great thinkers that didn't quite make the cut, such as Chip and Dan Heath, Geoffrey Moore, Constantinos Markides, Robert Burgelman, Henry Mintzberg, Gary Hamel, Michael Tushman, W. Chan Kim, and Renee Mauborgne. And I'm sure there are many more people with great ideas that I just haven't encountered yet.
One natural question is, "Who is next?" There continues to be a steady stream of interesting ideas describing practical ways to improve innovation predictability and productivity. There are seven "next-generation" innovation writers and thought leaders that are worth watching (in alphabetical order):
1. Horace Dediu. I first met Dediu when we did an engagement with Nokia back in 2004. He is one of the most thoughtful students of disruptive innovation you'll meet. He runs a popular blog called Asymco, and his well-thought-out takes on the mobile phone and related industries make him worth following.
2. Jeffrey Dyer and Hal Gregersen. The duo (who are affiliated with Innosight) wrote a great book with Clayton Christensen last year called The Innovator's DNA. The book details the five behaviors that help power innovation success (associational thinking, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting), and provides a raft of practical tips to get better at innovation.
4. Stefan Lindegaard. Lindegaard has spent the last few years developing practical guidance about "open innovation." Last year, he joined a growing number of self-publishers by releasing Making Open Innovation Work. His website, 15inno.com, is a useful read.
5. Alexander Osterwalder. Seemingly everyone has seen the results of the book project that Osterwalder led — Business Model Generation — and has seen his "business model canvass" in action. Osterwalder's open-sourced, tool-oriented approach makes him a practitioner's dream.
6. Eric Ries. Eric is very well known in the start-up world and is beginning to become known in the corporate world. Ries builds off the teaching of Innovation Master Steve Blank and urges entrepreneurs to "remove waste" from the creation of new businesses by being very scientific in the management of unknowns. His 2011 book, The Lean Startup, is a must read.
7. Peter Sims. Sims wrote one of my favorite books from last year — Little Bets. The book is very approachable and actionable, using wide ranging examples to describe the importance of experimentation in the innovation process. Sims opens by describing how comedian Chris Rock perfects new jokes through a disciplined process of trial and error, and the book keeps rolling from there.
It's great to be in a field that is still emergent enough to attract such great talent, but now defined enough that practitioners can put ideas to immediate use. I look forward to continuing to play my part in synthesizing the writing from academics and practitioners with personal lessons learned from Innosight's fieldwork.