What are the best innovation books ever written?
This is a very subjective topic and therefore Really Good Innovation has consolidated the top 10 innovation books from various different sources (Table 1) and additionally analyzed Amazon reviews to provide on-point reviews.
According to the different innovation book rankings and the reviews on Amazon, Really Good Innovation presents in the following the top 10 innovation books of all time.
1. Innovator’s Dilemma
Why do well functioning companies fail? Christensen summarizes his whole research in this book with the focus on the computer disk drive industry. The book intends to show why certain businesses are successful while others fail and how this is connected to new technologies. The book concludes that successful businesses often fail because they are not able to find a new market for disruptive technology, but keep supplying their customers’ current needs instead. Christensen’s conclusion might not be so straight-forward, but the repetitiveness and the great use of data make the point clear. While the focus is mainly on the disk drive industry, to support his claim, Christensen also brings in examples from other areas. The reason why this book is seen by many as one of the most influential books in the area of innovation is because of the groundbreaking and thorough research it is based on, which gives a great insight into what mistakes companies should avoid in order to survive.
The weakness of the book is that all the examples are now already many years old, while the pace of technological innovation continues to increase. The use of these rather old examples might also make the book less engaging to read nowadays, and the presentation of data in some chapters in a rather dry way, surely doesn’t help with this. Nevertheless, the core argument is still true today and you can learn a lot from reading this book. The summaries at the end of the chapters help to understand his point and if you don’t want your company to fall into the same trap, you should definitely learn from the mistakes highlighted in “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.
2. The Lean Startup
Many startups fail. One of the reasons, as explained by Ries, is that traditional management techniques simply don’t work for Startups. With the proposed approach, Startups should be able to tackle uncertainty and therefore reduce their risk of failure. But also in bigger companies, Ries’ approach can be applied to develop products that customers want. The book gives practical advice, and includes a lot of personal experiences from the author’s business life as well as applicable techniques such as the “5 Why Method”. The reason why this is seen as one of the most important innovation books is that it introduces the lean approach, which is crucially different from older management approaches and could prevent many companies from failure.
The weakness of this book is that it is strongly focused on a software context without many examples from other sectors. Also the method’s core idea is built around a process of incremental improvement, which neglects the necessity of any radical innovation. As one reader argued, if Henry Ford would have only worked based on this book than we would just have faster horses today instead of cars. Nonetheless, the method is groundbreaking as it helps companies to embrace uncertainty and shows the value of an experimental approach to business. Every business person should know about the Lean Startup approach and consider its elements to operate a successful company.
3. The Innovator’s Solution
In The Innovator’s Solution, Christensen and Raynor explore further the idea of disruption, explaining how organizations should become disruptors themselves. The book helps to answer the questions raised in “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and explains why many of the Fortune 500 companies have been ignoring incumbents that will make them irrelevant in the future. Christensen and Raynor thereby develop a theory of how it would be possible to build a company that constantly creates disruption. The book explains the cause and effect logic which many companies follow and highlights why this is dangerous, as logic often leads to the problem of not seeing surprising aspects that can be negative for their business.
Some of the weaknesses include the fact that the book often talks about rather traditional companies and organizational structures, even though more and more companies today have much more innovative setups. Nevertheless, it is also the idea of the book to look at what not to do and learn from the mistakes of others. Particularly good is thereby the emphasis on which circumstances are key for whether a company succeeds or fails. These aspects are applicable to both large companies and small startups.
4. Blue Ocean Strategy
In this book, Kim and Mauborgne show how you can move out of a bloody “red ocean” of fierce competition into a different and more profitable “blue ocean”. The idea is to go into untapped markets, creating a new space in the marketplace and thereby making competition irrelevant. Rather than battling for existing customers, companies are urged to explore new opportunities and try to solve customer needs in unexplored ways. This is a very new approach to strategy and to innovation and is therefore considered one of the top innovation books.
The book is sometimes very technical, uses rather complicated vocabulary and sometimes appears rather academic. Some readers also argued that the examples illustrated in the book were picked only to support the theory, while other important cases were neglected. Nonetheless, the authors use a lot of good examples and practical advice. For instance, the concept of the value curve is a key concept that can be applied directly to compare your offering to one of your competitors, helping you to visualize potential opportunities for blue oceans. This book will definitely stimulate your creativity and make you think of how to serve so far underserved communities.
5. Crossing The Chasm
You might ask yourself why this book is in the top 10 of innovation books, as it has a strong marketing focus. However, just having an innovative idea or a prototype is by far not enough. Implementation is at least as important and for that you need to be able to get into the market. The basic concept is that an innovation is first used by a set of early adopters with different needs compared to the mainstream market, which the innovation must ultimately reach if it should be a success. That difference between the early adopters and the mainstream market is “the Chasm”. In a pragmatic way, the authors show a strategy to overcome this gap and enter the market.
A weakness of this book is that it is strongly focused on high tech industries and the B2B market. Also, the strong marketing and sales focus could be seen as a downside. Nevertheless, this marketing aspect is crucial for innovators to create value with innovations, and also the focus on high tech makes sense, as in these markets a lot of disruptive innovations need to be brought into the market. The learnings of the book are however also applicable in other sectors and they will teach you how to make a product easy to buy for your customers.
6. Competing Against Luck
Christensen? Sounds familiar! Oh yeah it’s his third book already in this top 10 list. But no, we are not secretly sponsored by him; the guy just knows his innovation topics. In this book, the authors try to find an answer to whether innovation can be more than a game of hit and miss. The theory in the book is strongly focused around the customer, as we tend to think that we know what our customers want but often are wrong. Christensen et al. highlight that it is not about observing what products or services customers buy. Instead, it is about understanding which “jobs” customers are trying to fulfill, as these unsatisfied “jobs” make people use certain products or services as means to an end. This is not the only book about customer-centric innovation but we would argue that in this top 10 list, it also represents other similar theories.
It can be said that Christensen is not the first person to talk about the jobs to be done theory. Nevertheless, he made the topic very popular. It has been argued by some readers that exactly this is the intention of the book: to make something popular and earn money with a concept that already exists. Critics argue that the theory could be well more summarized and that the book is rather repetitive. However, the book’s success speaks for itself and the theory has helped many businesses to better understand their customers’ needs in order to create valuable products and services.
7. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Innovation and Entrepreneurship is the first book to present the topic of entrepreneurship as a purposeful and systematic discipline. If you are looking to acquire knowledge on the principles of entrepreneurship and innovation, this book is a great start as it includes many examples of successful companies but also of failed businesses. This book is part of the list as it is one of the all time classics, similar to a bible of innovation.
Like with many classics, critics say that it is a bit old and examples are rather outdated. Also, it is based on much more conservative management and organizational theories than what we use today. Nevertheless, the combination of a simple language, a lot of detail and many examples tells a lot about the topic of innovation. This classic should definitely be read and not only to understand innovation from a more historical perspective, but also to gain insights into what it takes to be innovative and successful as a business.
8. Ten Types Of Innovation
This book makes an attempt to classify 10 different types of innovation, with the support of examples from more than 2000 innovations. This shows that innovation is so much bigger than just new products and can therefore give great inspiration for innovation in other fields. The authors thereby diagnose patterns of innovation in different industries to identify new opportunities. The book is a very practical guide that gives you a solid methodology for your own innovation approach and it can be described as a tactical handbook for innovators. Next to more theoretical books in this list, this one is for people who like to have some practical guidance to directly apply in their own businesses.
Critics argue that such a categorization is not really new and we know that it is not just about product innovation. Also there seem to be some similarities to the Business Model Generation book by Osterwalder, which might question the novelty of the insights. However, the book is very easy to read, has good examples and gives you an innovation tool to improve your business right away.
9. Making Ideas Happen
According to the author, no one is born with the ability to drive creative projects all the way to completion. The execution of ideas is a skill that can and needs to be acquired and this book gives guidance through this process. The book thereby describes three forces that are key to make ideas happen: Organisation and execution; Leveraging communal forces; and Leadership in the creative pursuit. The target group is mainly people who are creative and have lots of good ideas but struggle with the implementation. The book is in the top 10, as it gives a great guidance on how to develop the right framework and the right structures in order for creative people to flourish and to have an impact in the organization.
Some critics say that the book is thereby a bit dry and repetitive and basically proposes being more organized as the solution to every problem. Also, there are other books about implementing a more structured way of working, like for example “Getting Things Done” by David Allen. Nevertheless, the book can be used as a practical guidance to evaluate company structures and projects and helps to get ideas implemented. Even if there are other good books about organization and implementation or ideas, this is a great read if you feel like you are missing the structure that should guide your creative endeavours.
10. Playing To Win
Yes this is a strategy book. But in order for a company to be innovative, you don’t just need creative people brainstorming about new products. Instead, you also need the overall strategy in order to target the right markets and focus on the right business opportunities. This book gives an idea of how any company can build a clear strategy for success, based on the following five choices:
- What is our winning aspiration?
- Where will we play?
- How will we win?
- What capabilities must we have in place to win?
- What management systems are required to support our choices?
The book is thereby focusing on P&G’s success story (as it is written by the former CEO and a main advisor) and most examples are from the authors’ experience at P&G. This is also one of the main critics of the book: there sometimes seems to be a lack of generalization as most examples are from one case study. Also, critics argue that there is not a lot of debt but it’s written on a rather macro level. Looking beyond the many P&G examples though, the book provides a great framework for developing sound strategies that can be applied in many different industries.
So these are the best books ever written on the topic of innovation? Well… the topic is still very subjective even though we tried to make it as objective as possible by consolidating the different rankings and taking into account Amazon reviews of readers. These books are definitely some of the best innovation books out there but check out all the books on Really Good Innovation and select your own top 10 (you can create your own collection with your favorites).
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