Book review: The Myths of Innovation – Scott Berkan

I used to run a web site that featured reviews of IT/photography related books. It’s gone now but I thought I’d put the old reviews up here in case anyone finds them useful. Here’s the first.

We’ve always been led to believe innovation comes from super-talented people or small focussed teams having a eureka moment. Alas, the reality is all too often rather less romantic. Scott Berkan has produced a thought provoking new book on the subject that aims to clear away all our misconceptions about innovation and provides some new insights along the way.

What the book isn’t is a tutorial or magic bullet that will help you unleash a torrent of brilliant ideas. Instead, the author takes us on a fascinating journey through history providing background, stories and advice on what not to do and which supposedly tried and tested methodologies are in fact nothing of the sort.

Unlike many books in this field, The Myths of Innovation is a pleasantly light read. The author has a lucid writing style and plenty of anecdotes and stories that all help to illustrate the points he is making.

The book is divided in to ten chapters, each of which covers a particular concept or misconception. The first one, The Myth of Epiphany sets out the direction for the whole book and quickly destroys the story of Newton and his apple moment in the ‘discovery’ of gravity. The reality is if anything rather more impressive, years of study, multiple disciplines and ideas all being pulled together to produce a fully formed set of theories and formulae

For me, the real richness in the book is the wealth of stories both historical and contemporary, each of which illustrates a point. I certainly had many of my beliefs neatly demolished as tales of Einstein, Jeff Hawkins (founder of Palm), Steve Jobs and many more are told.

One concept I particularly liked was the importance of understanding the real problem. For instance, Edison didn’t want to create a lightbulb, he wanted something that could be wired up in cities that would make money. Equally, the Palm Pilot spec wasn’t for this function or that function, it was to fit in a shirt pocket, sync with a PC, be easy to use and cost less than $299. Everything else was just fluff.

I can safely say the book lives up to its title. It does a neat and surprisingly entertaining job of debunking almost everything you ever believed or hoped was true of innovation and the processes behind it. It will leave you hungry to explore new ways of trying to discover and created armed with the new insights it provides.

For such a compact book, I did feel the price was a little high (although Amazon’s prices are particularly keen on this book) but on balance, if you have an interest in innovation, either within yourself or by inspiring others, this is a fine read that will probably become a classic in its field.

Finally, I have to take my hat off to the writer of the colophon who went well above and beyond the call of duty with a bizarre page and a half that should worry anyone that deals with him or her on a daily basis.