Six Books Every Innovator Should Read
Reading has always been a big part of my life, a habit my parents instilled in me at a young age. In fact, some of my earliest (and fondest) memories entail spending entire afternoons slowly paging through massive encyclopedias and children’s science books.
But growing up, I came to realize that books could be much more than just entertainment and light learning. Books can give us a powerful competitive advantage. By peering into the minds of those who came before, you can absorb numerous perspectives, realizing commonalities in the human experience and finding patterns in the problems that haunt us. Most importantly, reading expands your mind, helping you realize that no problem is unsolvable. And in the business world, being a relentless and creative problem-solver makes you highly valuable.
Innovation, then, becomes an exercise of ingeniously reapplying pre-existing solutions to new problems. Be it Bill Gates, Larry Paige or Warren Buffet, the world’s most successful innovators are also voracious readers—master learners who ceaselessly gather outside inspiration and reapply it to their everyday lives. They learn from the best, and then add their own ideas to form a unique personal philosophy.
Of the hundreds of books I’ve read, there are a few that have stayed with me, packing a transformational punch that makes them impossible to forget. They’re books I keep coming back to, in one way or another. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but these six books have helped me grow in my career by sharpening my skills in the art of innovation and I hope they help to inspire others in a similar way.
1. Bold | by Peter Diamandis and Steve Kotler
What it’s about: The book is co-authored by Peter Diamandis, an entrepreneur whose portfolio has the scope and ambition traditionally reserved for comic book villains: space exploration, human life extension, higher education, asteroid mining, molecular genetics… you can see the reason for the book’s title. Diamandis calls it “both a manifesto and a manual,” diving deeply into today’s “exponential technologies” while providing thinking and a business plan framework to help anyone change the world.
How it can make you a better innovator: This book will rock your world. More specifically, it will ignite a mindset to change the world. Not only will it expose you to the breakthrough technologies that are sure to disrupt your business, it will also provide a mental and structural roadmap for leveraging them. If you want to know how innovation luminaries like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Larry Paige or Richard Branson think and act, this is the book to read.
2. The 4-Hour Workweek | by Tim Ferriss
What it’s about: Don’t let the name fool you—this is not a cheesy self-help book. It’s a powerful manifesto for purposeful and optimized living. Throughout the book, Ferriss logically and meticulously shatters the biggest assumptions most people make regarding their careers. The deferred pleasures of retirement, the long hours in the office, the supposed value of “time management,” even the very meaning of success… all of these crumble to the ground. Not only that, Ferriss also provides a plethora of very specific tools, tricks and structures to boost your personal productivity and design the life you want to live.
How it can make you a better innovator: At their core, innovators are people who want to create meaning and purpose through their life’s work. This book will teach you to question “the system,” putting your life and career into proper context and confronting the fears that may be keeping you from becoming who you truly want to be. Ferriss equips the reader to better define that true driving purpose and to focus on the things that will help fulfill it.
3. Steve Jobs | by Walter Isaacson
What it’s about: If there was such a thing as an “official” biography of the quintessential innovator, this is it. Steve Jobs, in his brilliance and visionary style, shattered the conventions of what is possible, disrupting and redefining seven (seven!) industries along the way. The book, launched shortly after his death in 2011, takes you through his life journey, from being an adopted child, to his pilgrimage through India, to founding and exiting Apple, to the comeback that created the world’s most valuable company in history.
How it can make you a better innovator: Where to start? You’ll learn how focus, discipline and simplicity were the core values that made innovation at Apple exceptionally successful. You’ll learn that passion, more than anything else, is the best predictor of success in the uphill battle of transformative innovation. You’ll learn the pivotal role that the interconnection of disciplines—how Jobs saw himself as being at the intersection of humanity and technology—was critically important to his success.
In short, you’ll be endlessly inspired to “put a dent in the universe” by one of the greatest innovators to have ever lived.
4. Made to Stick / Switch | by Chip & Dan Heath
What it’s about: Okay, so these are technically two separate books. But the same authors wrote them, so we’ll allow it. The first, Made to Stick, is a framework to help make ideas “sticky” or memorable. The second, Switch, is a construct that helps anyone foster change in a company, country or community.
How it can make you a better innovator: Anybody who works in innovation will tell you that one of the greatest (and often overlooked) pitfalls of new ideas has nothing to do with the idea itself. It’s all about the packaging and the way you push the idea forward to the ever-change-resistant crowd.
The truth is that innovators need to be great storytellers, and change ninjas as well. It’s simply not enough to have a great idea… innovators need to know how to sell it, how to get people excited about it, how to make it stand out and be memorable. Made to Stick provides the helpful SUCCESs (Simplicity, Unexpectedness, Concreteness, Credibility, Emotions, Stories) formula to make ideas sticky, while Switch provides the tools to create change by shaping the Path (the environment), motivating the Elephant (the emotional self) and the Rider (the rational self).
5. The Little Black Book of Innovation | by Scott Anthony
What it’s about: This book is as close to Innovation 101 as you can get. It begins by explaining why innovation is pivotal in today’s world and then summarizes the mindsets and major tenets preached by the greats of innovation—from inventor Thomas Edison to current P&G CEO A.G. Lafley. Lastly, it provides a 28-Day framework to implement and execute innovation in a disciplined, best-in-class manner.
How it can make you a better innovator: Beyond the obvious, this book helps you stay grounded and unswayed by the “trends” and buzzwords of the novelty-hungry innovation world by serving as a helpful refresh on the research-proven fundamentals of innovation—both in process and mindset.
6. Creating Innovators | by Tony Wagner
What it’s about: Creating Innovators is about the future. More specifically, it outlines the ways in which getting education right will either make or break our future. Through insightful stories and case studies, Wagner details the conditions, principles and practices that strengthen creativity and the ability to innovate in children, teens and adults. Importantly, his writing also establishes a framework for disrupting the worlds of business and education so that they can better adapt to the accelerating pace of change.
How it can make you a better innovator: If you didn’t believe the education system needed to be reformed, you will now. Not only does the book provide a solid case for innovation as a business imperative, it also lays it out as a pivotal tenet for human survival. With the world’s problems becoming increasingly complex, it will be today’s children who will come together and solve them. And there is no better place to make sure that they are ready for that challenge.
So, what do you think about my list? Are there any essential reads I left out? Let me know what books you have found to be fundamental to shaping your personal innovation philosophy—I’m always looking for my next great read.
Rolando Archila is SVP, Director of Innovation at Seed Strategy, where he brings a fresh, global perspective to breakthrough innovation. His passions include world travel, photography and the futurology.
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