Scott Berkun: The Myths of Innovation
I think it was last week that I attended a presentation at Adaptive Path, where Scott Berkun gave an engaging presentation based on the material he presents in his new book: The Myths of Innovation. He is a very engaging speaker and the presentation was a treat. He got me thinking about innovation, what it means to be innovative, and what to expect along the way.
Some ideas include:
- Innovation doesn’t just happen: apparently, Newton may never have been struck by an apple, but even if it did, it was just one of many inspirations along with a subsequent twenty years of work to describe the mathematical idea of gravity.
- History picks winners and heroes to remember, but the truth is that innovation is the product of taking many many new ideas and putting together something new. Standing on the backs of giants . . .
- . . . it takes more than just a great idea to produce the next innovation: without the resources to implement, promote, et cetera, and even more important: if the culture is not yet ready for a great idea, it will be remembered, if at all, as “ahead of its time.”
What I found more interesting is when he talked about what people have done with this improved understanding of how innovation really works. He spoke about the 3M corporation: Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing. After some false starts with mining they ended up making good money selling sandpaper. Then an engineer, noticing the difficulty a customer was having at trying to paint cars two different colors, asked his boss if he could work on an idea to solve that problem. The boss resisted, but the engineer couldn’t let the idea go, and he eventually figured out masking tape, which was an even better product than sand paper. Management realized that allowing for some creative exploration was within the company’s best long-term interests, and worked to develop a culture friendly to creative endeavor. Post-it notes are another famous example from 3M: they had developed an adhesive that was too weak, but after some time this led to a creative solution to the question of “I would really like to make notes in my research without marking up these books.” (Actually, I think Google was what happened when Larry and Sergei wanted to create an annotation tool for the web . . . and now they are famous for their “20% time”.)
I bought the hardcover for nearly $30, and Scott was good enough to sign it for me. I am nearly finished reading, and since Scott is not only very engaging, but he also left work some years back to devote his entire energy to writing, I thought it good to plug his work. It is not some weighty, serious tome: he has fun along the way, gets you thinking, and then lets you off where you were with perhaps a bit better insight. I will share the very first paragraph from the preface, which made me smile, and if you choose to read further, it is all on you:
“Prefaces are often like bad first dates: too much talk, too soon. Books, like future significant others, should know how much to say and when. Chapter 1 gets the first slot for a reason: if I’ve done my job, you can start with the first sentence and continue until you hit the back cover. That said, I offer you the choice of skipping the rest of the preface and digging in, or skimming around. It’s the only way to know if we’re right for each other. I hope we are, but if you don’t like what you find, it’s me, not you.”
If Scott’s words intrigue you, you can explore a bit further: read a sample chapter (pdf), check out a “teaser video” that Scott produced, or buy the book online from Amazon.com.