Book Review - The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun
Occasionally I run across a book that puts into words my general and ill-defined feelings on a particular subject. And this is one of them... The Myths Of Innovation by Scott Berkun. He captures perfectly the difference between what we've been led to believe about innovation as opposed to how it actually works. And on top of that, it's a fun read...
The Myth of Epiphany; We Understand the History of Innovation; There is a Method for Innovation; People Love New Ideas; The Lone Inventor; Good Ideas Are Hard to Find; Your Boss Knows More About Innovation Than You; The Best Ideas Win; Problems and Solutions; Innovation Is Always Good; Research and Recommendations; Photo Credits; Acknowledgements; About the Author; Index
Berkun takes on the myth that all great discoveries were made by one (or a small team of) individual who has a "eureka" moment when everything comes together. The myth feels good, as it fits in our American culture of individualism. But the truth of the matter is that the "inventor" of something is really a nebulous thing. Was the inventor the first person who came up with the concept? Was it the first person who made it work? Maybe it's the first person who made it a financially viable product. What you quickly learn in this book is that every large idea is made up of many smaller ideas and innovations that come together to make the new concept possible. The personal computer is an innovation, but it relies on innovations in design, silicon, transistors, magnetics, energy, etc. No one person is responsible for everything. If you remove any of the prior inventions that make up the new whole, the entire structure collapses.
I really enjoyed Berkun's thought-provoking chapters. For instance, Newton is credited for many advances in the field of physics. But he's as much a product of his location and time as he is of his studies. Born in a different country or 100 years earlier, Newton doesn't exist as the key figure. But that's not to say that his ideas would have never been uncovered. Others working in the same field with the same surroundings could likely have traveled the same path. Another idea that resonated with me is the concept of "epiphany"... that moment when the "missing piece" drops into place and the whole picture is revealed. In actuality, there's a large amount of work that leads to that moment in time, and without that prior work the "missing piece" becomes just one more part of the puzzle. Innovation is hard work, and it's a process, not a moment in time.
Finally, I very much agreed with his view of how time adds meaning to an idea or concept. The Wright brothers' first flight wasn't a big deal when they first launched their contraption at Kitty Hawk. Very few people showed up, and it would be decades before flight became a common occurrence. The Eiffel Tower was considered an eyesore when it was first constructed. Now it's a famous monument. Only with the passage of time does the true importance of something become revealed, or do we attach significance to an event.
There's so much in this book to make you rethink and question the stories of innovation that have become part and parcel of our culture and society. But once you do that, then it's possible to truly understand how innovation occurs, and how you can play a part in that. This is a great read that will occupy your mind for quite some time after you turn the final page.