Great Books

Here’s a list of Professor Jeff DeGraff’s favorite books on innovation and his personal commentary on each recommendation. Most are not “how-to” guides, but rather, books that emphasize important ideas that will help you understand how innovation works.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Practices and Principles

By Peter Drucker
Harper Row (1985)

I know, it’s always Drucker. That’s because Peter had an amazing ability to see things about 20 years before the rest of us. This book spells out what would be called market-focused and driven innovation. He gives us simple guidelines for identifying opportunities for innovation. For example, he gives us tips on how to spot incongruities that lead to new markets, the role of internal rhythm and momentum and insight on why declining industries and firms often produce the most breakthrough innovations. If you are new to the field, this is as good of a place to start as any.

The Act of Creation

By Arthur Koestler
Hutchinson (1976)

In 1999, the New York Public Library created a list of the most important books of the 20th Century. Arthur Koestler’s novel, Darkness at Noon, was voted the book of the century over The Great Gatsby and The Grapes of Wrath. Koestler was fascinated by why people create and how the process happens. He was by training a psychologist and a journalist, and this book shows it as he unlocks the secrets of the “Socratic Demons” that appear when two seemingly unrelated ideas “bi-sociate” into Eureka moments. This is a great ride through what is usually heady stuff.

Essential McLuhan

Edited by Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone
BasicBooks (1995)

With the possible exception of Thomas Kuhn (Structure of Scientific Revolutions) and John Dewey (Experience and Education), Marshall McLuhan, a professor at the University of Toronto, is the most important North American philosopher of the 20th Century. OK, we’ve all heard his famous phrases – “the medium is the message”, “hot and cold media” and “the global village”, but McLuhan also told us how the Internet would work 40 years before the web. He also provides penetrating insight into the functions of innovation and how we often misunderstand these dynamics. It may seem a bit 1960’s to read McLuhan, but his insights on what drives progress are still better than anything anyone has written since.

Competing for the Future

By Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad
Harvard Business School Press (1994)

Hamel and Prahalad, colleagues of mine at Michigan, changed the entire center of gravity for innovation strategy. Instead of just looking for market opportunities, they suggested building on, and creating, core competencies that provide a pathway to the future. They changed the discussion from seeing the future first to getting their first – first mover advantage. They emphasized that core competencies were much harder to develop than products or services but offered so much more because they created new market opportunities while blocking competitors. Most importantly, the emphasized that having valuable and rare competencies wasn’t enough, your company needed to be organized and aligned with them. In essence, they had to be rebuilt so that innovation could get through the corporate system – a message, unfortunately, many Fortune 500 companies still don’t fully understand. This book is a bit evangelical with a little business school jargon thrown in for good measure.

Re-imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age

By Tom Peters
Dorling Kindersley (1995)

Love him or hate him, Tom is still on the money. I’m just amazed how he continues to be three steps in front of the rest of us. With a Stanford Ph.D. and a McKinsey pedigree, Peters loves to play the ordinary Joe, but don’t be fooled, he has one foot in academic world of theory and one in the world of practice. He is a gad fly on the wall of thousands of firms every year and is able to past together a mosaic of seemingly unconnected insights into emerging patterns of innovation. Re-imagine! looks like a child’s picture book thanks to the amazing folks at DK Books, maybe the most innovative publisher on the planet, and reads like a manifesto. Peters’ not only writes about innovation, he does it in an innovative way.

101 Creative Problem Solving Techniques: The Handbook of New Ideas for Business

By James Higgins
New Management Publishing Company (2005)

Sometimes you just need a cookbook of recipes that tells you how to make right dish for every occasion. This is it. Higgins has done a marvelous job of detailing a host of creativity and innovation tools that can be easily employed by teams at all levels. He explains the uses and outcomes of each tool, and provides methodical “how-to” lists for it all. A must have book for managers at all levels.

The Sources of Innovation

By Eric von Hippel
Oxford University Press (1988)

So you want some research on product development. Look no further. Von Hippel, an MIT professor, gives you the skinny on what the data suggests about where innovation occurs in different industries – R&D, marketing, end-users, material suppliers, and a host of unlikely participants. More importantly, he demolishes the traditional assumption of design and manufacture and replaces it with a much more elegant view of innovation developing and cascading across the entire value chain.and beyond. He has some insight into the future of innovation – beyond R&D and open source. Not exactly a breezy read, but if you have a soft spot for tech talk you’ll be tingling all over.

Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make Competition Irrelevant

By W. Chan Kim and René Mauborgne
Harvard Business School Press (2005)

If you are into innovation strategy – seeing the future first, finding uncontested markets, bridging adjacencies to adjacencies – this is the book for you. Chan used to teach with me at Michigan. His work with Renee is nothing short of brilliant. I personally enjoy many of their Harvard Business Review articles more than this book, but Blue Ocean Strategy is a great place to start. This book offers a terrific set of tools and frameworks if you are planning a strategy stretch or futuring retreat with the gang. Remember, this book is about finding where the action is, your basically on your own to capture these opportunities.

Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi

By Howard Gardner
BasicBooks (1993)

Howard is the godfather of multiple intelligences – or how is it that you started reading at three but still can’t do simple algebra at forty-nine. Gardner quite rightly notes that we are all intelligent in different ways and this greatly influences how we create. He give numerous examples that may surprise you. For example, the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre was musically gifted and this lead to a particularly poetic style of thinking and writing previously unthinkable for intellectuals. That’s why one size doesn’t fit all. Gardner provides some sound advice on how to manage to cognitive diversity. This book may offer some clues to why the guy in the corner office is brilliant on some projects and an absolute dumbbell on others and what to do about it.

Deep Smarts: How to Cultivate and Transfer Enduring Business Wisdom

By Dorothy Leonard, and Walter C. Swap
Harvard Business School Press (2005)

It would be easy to be insanely jealous of Dorothy Leonard. She continues to connect the dots between innovation practices, organizational learning and competency development better than anyone in the biz. A “retired” Harvard prof, Leonard, along with Tuft’s Walter Swap, lays out how organization’s become smart. Not just smart, but smart in practical (read value producing) ways: accumulated knowledge, know-how, and intuition gained through extensive experience. This book not only suggests how to develop yourself and your people, but explains the real consequences of outsourcing, downsizing and attrition to your organization’s viability. Deep Smarts challenges leaders to take a hands-on approach to managing the experience-based knowledge shaping the future of their organizations.

Portfolio Management for New Products

By Robert Cooper, Scott Edgett, and Elko Kleinschmidt
Perseus (2001)

So you’re an engineer who went to B-school. You know all about new product program management – stage-gage development systems, portfolio management, and resource allocation schemes. But you’ve never been able to put all of these together in a comprehensive and systematic way where you work. This book will have you in tools, methods and dashboards in no time. You will be in control of your domain and your people will have the esprit de corps to launch a complex mission to Mars. You will also get a real glimpse of what the capital committee is looking for from your project and some ways to make sure you get funding and keep it. You’ll be operationalizing innovation like P&G in no time.

The Art of Innovation : Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America’s Leading Design Firm

By Tom Kelley and Jonathan Littman
Currency/Doubleday (2001)

Many consider IDEO to be the world’s top product design firm – the Apple mouse, the Polaroid i-Zone instant camera, and the Palm V to the “fat” toothbrush for kids and a self-sealing water bottle for dirt bikers. How do they do it? The Art of Innovation covers the design trade from hiring to team building to design to testing. Many of these lessons are applicable to most business of various scope and scale, but is less relevant to services firms. The book is not so much an integrated methodology as a hodge-podge of anecdotes and insights. The book focuses on the role of talent and provides a wealth of “tricks of the trade.”

The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination

By Daniel J. Boorstin
Vintage (1993)

I love Daniel Boorstin, the former National Archivist and Harvard history professor. He won the Pulitzer for The Americans, but his magnum opus is the trilogy – The Discoverers, The Creators and The Seekers. Do yourself a favor and read all three – they are brilliant. In The Creators, Boorstin pulls back the veil of the creative mind by mixing biography with history. This book chronicles 3000 years of artistic invention, while providing entertaining biographical profiles of Dante, Leonardo, Goethe, Ben Franklin, Picasso and dozens more. Boorstin recreates the historical setting, explains why their work was ground breaking and important, and, in the process, provides some insightful clues about how we all create.

Think and Grow Rich

By Napoleon Hill
Aventine (2004)

I know, this isn’t really about innovation. But it is about what’s required to make yourself ready for innovation. OK, Hill had a bit of the blarney in him, but nonetheless, his insights are truly transformational. The story goes that when he was in law school at Georgetown, he met Andrew Carnegie and interviewed him for a paper. Carnegie challenged him to interview the 300 wealthiest men on the planet to glean their secrets of success. Hill took up the challenge and fifteen years later wrote Think and Grow Rich. This books lays out a plan to re-create yourself. Hill spells out fifteen basic principles that really hang on four basic propositions: 1. What you think about you create, 2. Create a master purpose for your life, 3. Surround yourself with terrific people to help each other create their destiny, and 4. Be positive. Hill was an advisor to Roosevelt and you can really hear his influence – “All we have to fear is fear itself.” Seventy-five years before the positive organizational scholarship movement at top business schools, Hill had conducted his own extensive research and provided answers that continue to work today.