The Myths Of Innovation
“Everyone believes the future will come all at once in a neatly gift-wrapped package, as if Horse 2.0, whatever its incarnation, would make its first appearance with trumpets blaring and angels hovering above.”
‘i.t.’ score: 95%
At less than 150 pages, it’s quite a small book, but The Myths Of Innovation is likely to take you a long time to read. That’s because in every paragraph, the author, Scott Berkun, makes you think about, and unlearn, something you took for granted. You thought brilliant ideas occurred in a flash. You believed that a single great idea makes an innovation. You felt that people love new ideas. You have heard that the best ideas always win, though they are hard to find. You were sure that innovation is always good. For heaven’s sake, like most of us, you even thought Thomas Edison invented the light bulb! When Berkun proves that all these are mere myths, you distinctly feel the bubble burst in your head, but the author does not stop with pointing out the myths—he also details the truth, so there is a lot more to learn!
The Myths Of Innovation clearly, concisely and humorously dispels many misconceptions about innovation. Berkun shows, with examples, that innovation is hard to achieve - but not magical! Inventors and innovators do not come by great ideas by luck; the flash idea that makes the whole sequence fall into place seems magical because it is the last bit in the jigsaw puzzle—and people mistake it to be serendipity. We tend to forget that the brilliant thought flashed only because the person had been thinking so much about the subject that it had entered the subconscious. The author points out that 20 years of research by Newton has been overshadowed by all the hype about the apple falling on his head!
Berkun’s metaphors stand out, and will remain etched in your mind for a long time. For example, in the context of flash ideas, he suggests that each time you reassemble a jigsaw puzzle, you will do so differently and wind up with a different ‘last piece’.
Another key concept that comes through in the book is how a great idea is only the starting point. Many other factors, including investment, ability to convince users, acceptance in the market, competition, timing, and even luck, play a role in the making of a success story. The success of the IBM PC is one of the many examples he cites from the world of science and technology. “While the IBM PC did become the dominant design, we have to be careful about drawing conclusions about why. It was never preordained, nor did it come solely because of IBM’s monopolistic dominance (they would release the comically still-born PCjr soon after),” writes Berkun. He says that if Xerox had released its PC model, Alto, or if Apple had been able to convince HP to bankroll their machine, IBM might not have made it so big. According to Berkun, IBM struck gold because it had an opportunity to learn from watching competitors and also because the time was ripe!
More examples and more lessons, delivered without a preachy or theoretical tone, make this book a must-read! The only uneasiness you might feel initially is about why the author is drawing from such a large sample of examples, ranging from early history to recent past, and spanning diverse fields such as architecture, physics and information technology, among others. But then you realise that each example only reinforces the truths that Berkun is trying to drive at, so their use is well justified and contextual.
In all, a winner! In fact, this is a book in which you cannot afford to ignore even the footnotes, because even these are packed with extremely informative tips and sometimes exceedingly comic quips!