The Innovation Book by Max Mckeown (@maxmckeown) was announced this week. You might know that I’m a big fan of Max’s books and his ability to distill huge concepts down into useful ideas. For me, a review of any of his books could be done as: “Max wrote it? Buy it, read it, use it, love it.” But this book is a bit special to me.
I have a strong interest innovation, but in our over-hyped, over-jargoned, over-#hashtagged world, the word loses meaning. It’s open to mis-interpertation, mis-use, and just plain missing the mark. Too often, we confuse innovation with technology or a direct line to profitability. We think of it as easy and straight-forward and talk about it as though it comes without cost or pain or failure. None of which is true.
The opening line of the first chapter brings some much needed clarity: “Innovation – or practical creativity – is mainly about making new ideas useful.” Practical creativity. Businesses like the results that come from successful innovation, but how many can stomach the process of innovation? It amuses me to think of business leaders telling their teams and divisions, “We need to be more practically creative if we’re going to stay competitive.” It’s true, of course, but creativity is a non-linear process full of starts, stops, failures, break downs, blind alleys, and happy accidents. It requires experimentation, iteration, and comfort with not knowing where things are leading. It means activity, decisions, and actions that may not pay off any time soon – certainly not this quarter – and requires a mindset of investing in the future. It requires giving up the known for unknown and business dogma for business heresy. That leader might as well say, “We need to spend more time and resources experimenting with ideas that might not work if we’re going to stay competitive.”
But we do want innovation, so how do we put practical creativity to good use? The Innovation Book is both guide book and user manual. Across the book’s six parts, it looks at how to increase your own ability to be more innovative, create environments and cultures to lead others to innovation, refine creative ideas into practical usefulness, and avoid the pitfalls that can prevent new ideas from never quite catching on.
The book shows examples of innovation winners – generally uncelebrated people and businesses whose new ideas pushed the world forward in often unglamorous ways. From non-stick cookware to feminine hygiene to medical products to corporate turnarounds, Max shows that innovation is so much more than being the next hot Silicon Valley startup.
On the flipside, we learn from examples of innovation losers – people and businesses at the tops of their games who painfully missed, ignored, or outright rejected changes in their industries they should have been leading. Money, technology, and a name brand don’t always lead to useful ideas, smart decisions, or happy endings.
The final section of the book is a tool kit with a couple dozen innovation models presented to provide guidance, frameworks, and different ways of thinking about and approaching innovation. As much as we humans might crave the One Right Answer and want the Five Point Plan For Guaranteed Success, the models are a useful reminder that there is no single way to approach innovation and no certainty of success. There are many, many approaches to choose from as you explore the unmapped areas of new ideas.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide an unbiased review because, well, I am biased about this book. I gave input on two pre-publication drafts and developed and facilitated a six-session class based on the book while the text was still being revised and updated (I wrote about the experience: here and here). The best review I can give for the book is to share an endorsement I provided for it: Strips big ideas down to their essence, making the complicated understandable and turning the theoretical into real-world practical.
In other words: Max wrote it. Buy it, read it, use it, love it.