Innovation Summer Reading List

As popular as short sleeves and flip-flops is the summer reading list. We've pulled together some fresh reads on innovation and design that should both entertain and educate. Innovation-speak can often be impenetrable, but we've done our best to find material that offers real enlightenment along with ideas you can put into practice.

The titles come at a time when innovation is on the chopping block. As budgets thin, the desire or ability to pursue breakthrough ideas can be derailed. It's tough to say what actually happens behind company doors in tough times: Executives could face a choice between cutting new initiatives or jobs. But while executives often talk about their continued commitment to coming up with new ideas and products, it's often no more than talk.

Still, whether the market ebbs or flows, companies must push on. Several of the titles on our list aim to teach businesses how to trim the fat from innovation processes. In a recession, efficiency becomes a matter of survival. In The Silver Lining , Scott D. Anthony instructs on where and how to prune innovation programs and home in on results. Meanwhile, BusinessWeek cover star Jim Collins warns against bloated, complacent company culture in How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In .

Insistent Innovation

Your hammock reading doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. Jeff Immelt and the New GE Way tells the story of General Electric's (GE) CEO. Though the stock has done poorly in the past year or so, Immelt's focus on insistent innovation saw the firm grow solidly through the beginning of the decade. In The Blue Sweater , Acumen Fund founder and CEO Jacqueline Novogratz recounts her experiences bringing microfinance and other blends of philanthropy and market systems to Africa, India, Pakistan, and a post-genocide Rwanda.

Some authors are introducing new realms of thought to business thinking. Former Time magazine editor Joshua Cooper Ramo takes us into The Age of the Unthinkable . By studying political and economic figures and movements, from George W. Bush to Hezbollah, Ramo emphasizes the importance of flexibility and adaptability—traits crucial to riding out the current market woes. In Free: The Future of a Radical Price , Wired Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson delves into the "free" and "freemium" strategies some companies are using to drive up revenues.

Just because it's summer, don't take these reads lightly. If there's one lesson to learn from them all, it's that businesses can't afford to coast, no matter what happens. Like sharks, companies must keep moving or die.

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