short book review: Dangerous Ideas by Alf Rehn

Innovation and creativity are all the buzz. You can’t escape the flash flood of blogs and articles telling you how to be more creative. I had gotten pretty jaded and had started thinking that maybe we should worry less about being Innovative (with a capital “I”) and worry more about just making better stuff and providing better service.

I want to believe that the true masters of creativity and  innovation do NOT start the day with a big whoop and a cheer of “Let’s innovate today!” Rather, they just relentlessly ask how they can improve things and look beyond the walls of their own fields and ideas. They ignore how it’s “supposed” to be done and instead do it right.

That’s where this book comes in. The subtitle is “When Provocative Thinking Becomes Your Most Valuable Asset” and Alf delights in being provocative and contrarian. He works hard to keep us thinking creatively about creative thinking.

I found it a straightforward and good read. It flows well and moves right along, which is a bit of a rarity amongst business books with substance. And it does have substance. Some of the high points:

  • He shows how people typically approach creativity from very uncreative ways. And why that shouldn’t surprise us.
  • Alf takes on the Belief around the cult of innovation that prevents us from innovating and he shows how our brains are hardwired to avoid innovative thinking. He goes on to point out that our discomfort with being different causes us to back off and prevents truly creative thoughts.
  • Creativity is hard freakin’ work. It’s unpleasant. It’s difficult. It involves wrestling with the unknown and untried. No wonder people resist.
  • When innovation is more hindrance than blessing (blasphemy?).
  • How and why copying other ideas plays a big role in actual innovation. What, you say, copying is not creative! Well, you may be wrong (hint: Steve Jobs did not actually invent the MP3 player).
  • Why we only think we want a bunch of creative people in the company.
  • The fun of conflict and value of opposition when trying to think creatively.
  • Diversity and creativity and why efforts at diversity generally come up lacking real diversity.
  • “The World’s Shortest Course of Creativity”. Yes, he does actually provide ideas and exercises to help you be more creative. It shouldn’t surprise you that they are probably not quite what you’re expecting.
  • The importance of shutting off creativity and actually producing something. Analytical types suffer “paralysis of analysis” and creatives can get caught in a similar whirlpool of thinking, thinking, and thinking some more without actually doing. That doesn’t help.

All in all, a very good take on creativity and innovation and one that I have enthusiastically already recommended to others. A little hard to track down in the States (the internet is your friend), but well worth the effort.

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