There’s no shortage of books and articles and blogs about innovation. In fact, the term itself has become such a junk word that I hesitate to bring it up.
But I asked Max McKeown for a copy of his latest book, The Innovation Book, which was released earlier this year, and he was kind enough to send me one to review. So I knew I couldn’t get away with not using the i-word in this post.
Given the volume of writing on this topic, McKeown isn’t exactly plowing new ground with this book. But if you’re interested in the subject, as I am (especially as it pertains to higher education and marketing), you might find this book valuable as a resource and reference.
Here are five key takeaways I got from reading The Innovation Book. (Disclaimer: Since I’ve read very little on this topic, my take on the contents of McKeown’s book may be considered naive by innovation fanatics.)
- A practical handbook for would-be innovators. This book is organized in a way that serves as a handbook or manual for would-be innovators. It’s broken into six sections, each with “action topics” related to its section. McKeown encourages readers to “dip in and out of each topic as you choose.” The final section — “the innovator’s toolkit” — is filled with approaches to problem-solving and creative thinking designed to help the reader think differently about a problem. There, and throughout the book, McKeown emphasizes the point that innovation is about “practical creativity.”
- Written for organizations. McKeown emphasizes that innovation is a team sport. No matter what business you’re in, innovation seldom occurs in a vacuum, or by the hand of a lone tinkerer. It is a collaborative endeavor. The Innovation Book is written with that in mind. It addresses innovation from an organizational standpoint. He discusses the benefits and drawbacks of different organizational approaches (open versus closed systems, for example) or team composition (functional, lightweight, heavyweight or autonomous) and notes that different types of work environments tend to encourage different types of innovation. He also points out that organizational culture can be a significant factor as to whether innovation thrives.
- Challenging to-dos. Each subsection, or action topic, of McKeown’s book ends with a challenging assignment for the reader under the header “Do this now!” At the end of Part 1’s first action topic (“Nurturing your creative genius”), he urges readers to “Spend 10 minutes finding out why other people love a new idea that you hate.” The point of each exercise is to apply the lessons of that section to our everyday lives. And it’s a good practice (in theory, anyway; I’ve yet to implement any of the to-dos).
- Off-the-beaten-path examples. As I said, I haven’t read a lot about innovation, but much of what I’ve read tends to focus on case studies or anecdotes from well-known companies — such as Apple or Google — or in higher education, from a handful of institutions (MIT, Stanford, Arizona State). And much of my reading has been USA-centric. So it was refreshing to read about many examples of innovation from around the world. These include Dassault Systemes, a French company that is merging virtual reality and 3-D printing, and Kweichow Moutai, a producer of Chinese liquor that brought innovation into a 2,000-year brewing tradition.
- Not a recipe for innovation. The one thing I liked most about McKeown’s approach to this topic is his objectivity. He does not approach innovation with a pre-conceived idea that Idea X will work for Situation Y all of the time. Based on his research, he shares the pros and cons of various approaches and lets the reader decide which ideas might work best for a particular situation. More than anything, he acknowledges the innovation can be a messy business.
While The Innovation Book is not written specifically for those of us in higher education, or even in marketing, the principles it outlines can serve us well as we think about ways to do things not just differently, but also better. As McKeown, ever the pragmatist, cautions: “Some people are so new-idea hungry they have a kind of novelty fetish. These change addicts are not as interested in whether the new idea makes anything better as they are in the newness itself. … You want to make room for new ideas without gutting systems that already work.”
Follow Max McKeown on Twitter: @MaxMcKeown.