20 books to ignite the innovator in you

20 books to ignite the innovator in you

With innovation and entrepreneurship on everyone’s mind today, where do you begin the journey of learning in a digital world that’s now in the zettabyte era? There are so many informative articles written everyday, so many interactive online courses developed and a ton of high quality videos recorded.

Eddie Custovic, an experienced engineer and entrepreneur who innovates with La Trobe’s Centre for Technology Infusion and lectures in La Trobe University’s Department of Engineering, argues that nothing beats reading a good book. Here’s his list of 20 essential titles every innovator should tackle.

1. Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention

Image credit: Amazon.

This classic study of the creative process is about capturing those moments that make life worth living. Legendary psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi reveals what leads to these moments – be it the excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab – so that this knowledge can be used to enrich people’s lives. Drawing on nearly one hundred interviews with exceptional people, Csikszentmihalyi discusses such ideas as why creative individuals are often seen as selfish and arrogant, and why the ‘tortured genius’ is largely a myth. Most importantly, he explains why creativity needs to be cultivated and is necessary for the future of our country, if not the world.

2. Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing our Digital Future

Image credit: Amazon.

We live in strange times. A machine plays the strategy game Go better than any human; upstarts like Apple and Google destroy industry stalwarts such as Nokia; ideas from the crowd are repeatedly more innovative than corporate research labs. Authors McAfee and Brynjolfsson know what it takes to master this digital-powered shift: we must rethink the integration of minds and machines, of products and platforms, and of the core and the crowd. In all three cases, the balance now favours the second element of the pair, with massive implications for how we run our companies and live our lives.

3. The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape our Future

Image credit: Amazon.

Much of what will happen in the next thirty years is inevitable, driven by technological trends that are already in motion. In this fascinating, provocative new book, author Kevin Kelly provides an optimistic road map for the future. Kelly shows how the coming changes in our lives – from virtual reality in the home, to an on-demand economy, to artificial intelligence embedded in everything we manufacture – can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces. Kelly both describes these deep trends  –interacting, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning – and demonstrates how they overlap and are co-dependent on one another.

4. The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail

Image credit: Booktopia.

The Innovator’s Dilemma demonstrates how successful, outstanding companies can do everything ‘right’ and yet still lose their market leadership – or even fail – as new, unexpected competitors rise and take over the market.

5. The Lean Startup

Image credit: Amazon.

Author Eric Ries is one of the key people leading the lean startup movement. According to Ries, a startup is an organisation dedicated to creating something new under conditions of extreme uncertainty.

This is a theoretically accessible and practical guide about what Lean Startup is and how to do it.

6. Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Image credit: Amazon.

Author Peter Drucker focuses on the practice of innovation, practice of entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial strategies. He uses examples to outline systematic innovation and sources of innovative opportunities within and outside of the enterprises. This seminal work includes the dos and don’ts of innovation, measurement of innovation performance, entrepreneurial policies, structures, and strategies.

7. The Medici Effect: What Elephants and Epidemics Can Teach Us About Innovation

Image credit: Amazon.

True innovation comes from beyond your realm of expertise. Author Frans Johansson introduces the concept of ‘intersection of ideas’, which results in path-breaking innovations. He believes diverse teams with an array of perspectives should collaborate to bring ideas from various fields to create the Medici Effect. Johansson has driven home the point with a lot of success stories to make the narrative interesting.

8. The Discoverers: A History of Man’s Search to Know his World and Himself

Image credit: Amazon.

This book charts the history of human discovery. Discovery in all its many forms are present – exploration, scientific, medical, mathematical and the more theoretical ones such as time, evolution, plate tectonics and relativity. Author Daniel Boorstin praises the inventive human mind and its eternal quest to discover the universe and our place in it.

9. Start-up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle

Image credit: Amazon.

Start-up Nation examines how Israel, a 60-year-old nation with a population of 7.1 million, was able to reach such economic growth that ‘at the start of 2009, some 63 Israeli companies were listed on the NASDAQ, more than those of any other foreign country’.

10. The Two Cultures

Image credit: Amazon.

Writing in the 1950s, author C.P. Snow’s thesis was that ‘the intellectual life of the whole of western society’ was split into the titular two cultures – namely the sciences and the humanities – and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world’s problems.

11. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

Image credit: Amazon.

The history of science by a philosopher. Its publication was a landmark event in the history, philosophy and sociology of scientific knowledge. Author Thomas Kuhn challenged the then prevailing view of progress in ‘normal science’, in which progress was seen as ‘development-by-accumulation’ of accepted facts and theories.

Instead, Kuhn argued for an episodic model in which periods of such conceptual continuity in normal science were interrupted by periods of revolutionary science. The discovery of ‘anomalies’ during revolutions in science leads to new paradigms. New paradigms then ask new questions of old data, move beyond the mere ‘puzzle-solving’ of the previous paradigm, and change the rules of the game and the ‘map’ directing new research.

12. The Ten Faces of Innovation

Image credit: Amazon.

Authors Tom Kelley and Jonathon Littman discuss IDEO‘s strategies for beating the devil’s advocate and driving creativity throughout your organisation. An easy and enjoyable read, the book describes 10 temporary personas – storyteller, hurdler, experimenter, cross-pollinator, anthropologist, caregiver, set designer, experience architect, director, and collaborator – you can assume to drive 360-degree innovation.

Engaging stories and tips on how to deal with damning cynics by donning “suitable” hats make this book an absolute gem. Read it to understand how corporations can tap into their potential and foster an innovation culture.

13. The Myths of Innovation

Image credit: Amazon.

Author Scott Berkun ‘methodically and entertainingly dismantles the clichés that surround the process of innovation’. The book describes where ideas come from, the true history of history, why most people don’t like ideas, how great managers make ideas thrive, and the importance of problem finding.

Breakthroughs and epiphanies don’t happen overnight; Berkun also tells us how to overcome resistance to ideas, how problems are likely more important than answers, and why the best ideas don’t always win. He describes how ideas can truly change the world – that is, how motivation and initiative with respect to innovation take the world forward.

14. Making Ideas Happen

Image credit: Amazon.

Belsky talks about techniques and principles to ‘systematically approach creative organisation and productivity’. He has compiled stories and experiences of visionaries, such as Seth Godin and John Maeda, who tell you how you go from generating an idea to its implementation by breaking down each project into its components: Action Steps, References, and Backburner items. It is a fantastic book for creative people who need help sorting tasks, figuring out whether they are dreamers, doers, or incrementalists, and deciding how much energy to invest to execute their ideas.

15. Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative-Thinking Techniques

Image credit: Amazon.

In hindsight, every great idea seems obvious. But how can you be the person who comes up with those ideas? Author Michael Michalko reveals life-changing tools that will help you think like a genius. From the linear to the intuitive, this comprehensive handbook details ingenious creative-thinking techniques for approaching problems in unconventional ways.

16. Competing for the future

Image credit: Amazon.

New competitive realities have ruptured industry boundaries, overthrown much of standard management practice, and rendered conventional models of strategy and growth obsolete. In their stead have come the powerful ideas and methodologies of authors Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad, whose much-revered thinking has already engendered a new language of strategy. In this book, they develop a coherent model for how today’s executives can identify and accomplish no less than heroic goals in tomorrow’s marketplace.

17. Think! Before It’s Too Late

Image credit: Amazon.

The world is full of problems and conflicts. So why can we not solve them? According to author Edward de Bono, current thinking cannot solve world problems because current thinking is itself the problem. And this is getting worse: we are so accustomed to readily available information online that we search immediately for the answers rather than thinking about them. Our minds function like trying to drive a car using only one wheel. There’s nothing wrong with that one wheel – conventional thinking – but we could all get a lot further if we used all four.

De Bono examines why we think the way we do from a historical perspective and uses some of his famous thinking techniques combined with new ideas to show us how to change the way we think. If we strengthen our ability and raise our thinking level, other areas of our life – both personal and business success – will improve.

18. Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation

Image credit: Amazon.

Engaging tales of industry transformation throughout the decades -ranging from the birth of typewriters to the emergence of personal computers, from gas lamps to fluorescent lighting, from George Eastman’s amateur photography to electronic imaging -capturing the personalities, the historical background, and the inspirational and instructive kernel in each.

Author James Utterback explores the rich history of innovation by skillfully applying insights from the past to develop a framework for the present, illustrating how innovation enters an industry, how mainstream firms typically respond, and how new and old players wrestle for dominance.

19. The Act of Creation

Image credit: Amazon.

It is a study of the processes of discovery, invention, imagination and creativity in humour, science, and the arts. It lays out Koestler’s attempt to develop an elaborate general theory of human creativity. From describing and comparing many different examples of invention and discovery,  author Arthur Koestler concludes that they all share a common pattern which he terms “bisociation” –a blending of elements drawn from two previously unrelated matrices of thought into a new matrix of meaning by way of a process involving comparison, abstraction and categorisation, analogies and metaphors.

20. Blue Ocean Strategy

Image credit: Amazon.

Blue Ocean Strategy continues to challenge everything you thought you knew about competing in today’s crowded market place. Based on a study of 150 strategic moves spanning more than a hundred years and thirty industries, authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne argue that lasting success comes from creating ‘blue oceans’: untapped new market spaces ripe from growth. And the business world has caught on – companies around the world are skipping the bloody red oceans of rivals and creating their very own blue oceans.

So, now your reading list is set, head to your nearest library. As US author Henry David Thoreau famously said: “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.”

Keen to transform your ideas into innovation? Develop technical skills, engineering design expertise and commercial savvy with a Bachelor of Engineering Honours (Industrial) at La Trobe University. 

Eddie Custovic

Eddie (Edhem) Custovic is a lecturer in La Trobe University's Department of Engineering.