Inspired to Innovate … ideas and anecdotes, tools and approaches, wit and wisdom from some of the world’s great innovation gurus

March 20, 2019

It’s one of the toughest challenges an executive faces: How do you get your people to think creatively—to challenge the status quo—while still keeping your everyday operations running smoothly? Innovation is not like most other business functions and activities.

There are no reliable templates, rules, processes, or even measures of success. In a sense, each act of innovation is a unique feat, a leap of the individual—or the collective—imagination that can be neither predicted nor replicated. Innovation, in short, is anything but business as usual.

And yet certain organizations are somehow able to come up with great ideas over and over again. Some of the ideas are for new products, some for new ways of working, others are for new strategies, still others for entirely new lines of business.

Is there a secret to these companies’ successes? Can other organizations learn from their examples?

Simon Sinek … “Innovation is about solving a problem” … the best innovators see beyond their own industries, they think like customers to solve bigger problems, real human problems. They have a sense of purpose, a why, that goes way beyond just creating new products or services.

Steven Johnson … “Where do ideas come from?” explores the sources of ideas, from the coffee houses of the enlightenment, to the collaborative approachers of today. And with today’s tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it.

Chan Kim … says create don’t compete, focus on Blue Oceans rather than Red Oceans … create new needs rather than just focusing on the needs that everyone else is meeting … like Cirque du Soleil when reinventing the circus experience

Clay Christensen … “The innovator’s dilemma” describes why constantly improving a product is not necessarily the best way to innovate. Often a distruptive business offering a seemingly lesser performance can displace the superior offer, because it meets the customer needs better.

Alex Osterwalder … “Business Model Innovation” is about reinventing your whole business. So many industries have become redundant that they need to fundamentally reinvent their whole business. It starts by asking how are you creating, delivering and capturing value? And what’s a better way?

Navi Radjou … “Frugal innovation” is a different mindset, that typically succeeds in emerging markets. It is about solving basic problems in more simple ways. Like the Chotukool which created a very simple fridge, more like a cool box, enabling people to buy and store fresh foods.

Hal Gregersen ….the best starting point for innovation is to ask powerful provocative questions … what if, why not … innovative leaders question the world constantly, provoking others to think openly and differently … but it starts by asking the right question

Scott Anthony … “Dual Transformation” is about the leadership challenge of creating tomorrow whilst also delivering today, finding the balance between improving the existing business, and transforming to the future business. How to allocate time, resources, and people to the twin goals.

Rita McGrath … on creating a better culture for innovation, in a world of co-created customer experiences. She explores how businesses need to develop innovation and collaboration as fundamental, repeatable proficiencies

Tim Brown … “design thinking” is taking the tools of designers to explore the real world of customers through their ideas, and then rapidly experiment with new ideas and prototypes to solve their problems, working as a team

Steve Jobs … said sometimes you needed to make a big step forward before your other competitors or you will miss out on special opportunities. This requires courage, to think unlike others, to believe in yourself, to shoot for bigger ideas than make a bigger difference to the world.

And some great books to take you further:

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Kahneman is a nobel laureate and psychologist who has dedicated most of his career to understanding the mechanisms for decision-making. This book is an exploration of the two “systems” we use to form judgements: System 1, which is more or less impulse and strongly swayed by emotion, and System 2, which is how we solve long division problems–our slower and more analytical thought processes. What’s fascinating is how often we fall into “cognitive illusions” or “cognitive bias” because of our dependencies on System 1. We are all trying to make better decisions more quickly, and this book gives really actionable advice on how to do this while explaining why we are the way we are.

Daring Greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead by Brene Brown

I get recommendations for business books all the time that are incredibly interesting, but I sometimes find that the books that actually impact my business are ones that have nothing to do with commerce. I’m a big fan of Brené Brown and her work on vulnerability and empathy. Her book Daring Greatly is a fantastic work that has helped inform how Maiden Home interacts with the ecosystem we’re building between our craftsmen partners in North Carolina, the Maiden Home team in New York, and our customers all over the U.S.

High Growth Handbook by Elad Gil

If you are in a position where you establish product-market fit and are now pondering next steps and how to scale, this book makes you feel as though you are consulting and being mentored by past successful entrepreneurs who have established themselves in Silicon Valley. When thinking about scaling, you have to consider the culture you are building and in what way the people you bring in to your organization help and build upon that culture. 

Power Up: How smart women win in the new economy by Magdalena Yesil

Magdalena is an entrepreneur-turned-investor who’s been working in Silicon Valley for over 25 years and is well known for being the first investor in Salesforce.

Factfulness: 10 reasons we’re wrong about the world – and why things are better than you think by Hans Rosling

We all need to be reminded that there are many changes in the world to be hopeful about and to build upon. Hans Rosling’s lifetime of helping us see the world more clearly is masterfully distilled in his last book.

Good to Great: Why some companies make the leap and others don’t by Jim Collins

One of my all time favourite books, Good to Great really defines the reasons why some companies make the transition to greatness, and how to build an organisation that can stand the test of time.

Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas

Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals Owain Service

‘Think Small’ is an accessible toolkit that helps people make small changes that stick. The Behavioural Insights Team [a social purpose company part-owned by Nesta] are recognised around the world for helping governments innovate by trialing different nudges to prompt citizens into new ways of acting or spending – like paying tax bills on time, or taking more exercise. This book offers a summary of their most famous trials and results, to help the reader get to grips with how to apply this innovation method to their own life goals – framed as a self help book.

The Innovation Blind Spot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas―and What to Do About It by Ross Baird

Current innovation processes and investment are structured from the top down, not where those who are best placed to create sustainable innovation and to drive successful change are. Founder of Village Capital, Ross Baird, argues that we have several blind spots when it comes to innovation: how we pick which ideas to support, how and where we find innovation, and why we invest in ideas. He argues that current practice is worsening deep divides and missing out on the best ideas, entrepreneurs and innovations.

WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us  by Tim O’Reilly

Many people feel uneasy about the direction technology is taking, from new digital business models that leave workers more vulnerable, to the many and varied proposed applications of AI. In ‘WTF?: What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us’, O’Reilly highlights the big (and sometimes unexpected) questions we really should be asking about the future of tech, how we shape it, regulate it, and ensure it has the values we want for business, government and society. Eddie Copeland, Director of Government Innovation

The Growth Delusion: The Wealth and Well-Being of Nations by David Pilling

In ‘The Growth Delusion’, journalist David Pilling offers a compelling case for why our obsession with economic growth, and our commitment to GDP as an indicator of everything that we value, is bad for all of us. For example, GDP measures gambling but not volunteering, financial speculation but not the value of nature. In other words, it ignores most of what matters to societies. He argues that policymakers, researchers and statisticians need to start thinking seriously about developing broader measures of prosperity and wellbeing. But this won’t be easy as there is little agreement about what makes people happy and prosperous. That’s why one of the most important ideas in this book is that deciding how we measure wellbeing, progress and prosperity in our societies shouldn’t be left to the professionals. Instead, governments should attempt to start a public debate about what they should measure.

Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy by Jonathan Haskel

‘Capitalism Without Capital’ draws on years of research – some of it supported and undertaken at Nesta – aiming to understand and measure the intangible economy: everything from inventions to brands, software to designs. Mainstream economics grew up in an era when most economic activity was physical – growing food or manufacturing cars and ships. As the economy has become much more immaterial, economics has struggled to keep up. The authors show the key facts – including that intangible investment is now greater than tangible investment in the UK and US, and that the majority of the most valuable firms in the world today – like Apple or Google – are based much more on intangible than tangible assets.

Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist by Kate Raworth

One of last year’s most important books on (fixing) economics, Kate Raworth argues that mainstream economics’ obsession with endless growth has created a society bound to grow ever more unequal; far out-producing and consuming our planet’s limited resources. ‘Doughnut Economics’ makes a clear case for why where we are today is not where we should be, and also lays out a very compelling (and accessible) vision for an alternative economy which does “meet the needs of all within the means of the planet”.



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