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The Myths of Innovation [Hardcover]

Scott Berkun
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 14 2007

How do we know if a hot new technology will succeed or fail? Most of us, even experts, get it wrong all the time. We depend more than we realize on wishful thinking and romanticized ideas of history. In the new paperback edition of this fascinating book, a book that has appeared on MSNBC, CNBC, Slashdot.org, Lifehacker.com and in The New York Times, bestselling author Scott Berkun pulls the best lessons from the history of innovation, including the recent software and web age, to reveal powerful and suprising truths about how ideas become successful innovations -- truths people can easily apply to the challenges of today. Through his entertaining and insightful explanations of the inherent patterns in how Einstein’s discovered E=mc2 or Tim Berner Lee’s developed the idea of the world wide web, you will see how to develop existing knowledge into new innovations.

Each entertaining chapter centers on breaking apart a powerful myth, popular in the business world despite it's lack of substance. Through Berkun's extensive research into the truth about innovations in technology, business and science, you’ll learn lessons from the expensive failures and dramatic successes of innovations past, and understand how innovators achieved what they did -- and what you need to do to be an innovator yourself. You'll discover:

  • Why problems are more important than solutions
  • How the good innovation is the enemy of the great
  • Why children are more creative than your co-workers
  • Why epiphanies and breakthroughs always take time
  • How all stories of innovations are distorted by the history effect
  • How to overcome people’s resistance to new ideas
  • Why the best idea doesn’t often win

The paperback edition includes four new chapters, focused on appling the lessons from the original book, and helping you develop your skills in creative thinking, pitching ideas, and staying motivated.

"For centuries before Google, MIT, and IDEO, modern hotbeds of innovation, we struggled to explain any kind of creation, from the universe itself to the multitudes of ideas around us. While we can make atomic bombs, and dry-clean silk ties, we still don’t have satisfying answers for simple questions like: Where do songs come from? Are there an infinite variety of possible kinds of cheese? How did Shakespeare and Stephen King invent so much, while we’re satisfied watching sitcom reruns? Our popular answers have been unconvincing, enabling misleading, fantasy-laden myths to grow strong."

-- Scott Berkun, from the text

"Berkun sets us free to change the world."

-- Guy Kawasaki, author of Art of the Start

Scott was a manager at Microsoft from 1994-2003, on projects including v1-5 (not 6) of Internet Explorer. He is the author of three bestselling books, Making Things Happen, The Myths of Innovation and Confessions of a Public Speaker. He works full time as a writer and speaker, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, Forbes magazine, The Economist, The Washington Post, Wired magazine, National Public Radio and other media. He regularly contributes to Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek, has taught creative thinking at the University of Washington, and has appeared as an innovation and management expert on MSNBC and on CNBC. He writes frequently on innovation and creative thinking at his blog: scottberkun.com and tweets at @berkun.


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"The naked truth about innovation is ugly, funny, and eye-opening, but it sure isn't what most of us have come to believe. With this book, Berkun sets us free to try to change the world unencumbered with misconceptions about how innovation happens." - Guy Kawasaki, author of The Art of the Start "Insightful, inspiring, evocative, and just plain fun to read it's totally great." - John Seely Brown, former Chief Scientist of Xerox, and Director, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC); current Chief of Confusion

About the Author

Scott Berkun worked on the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft from 1994-1999 and left the company in 2003 with the goal of writing enough books to fill a shelf. The Myths of Innovation is his second book: he wrote the best seller, The Art of Project Management (O'Reilly 2005). He makes a living writing, teaching and speaking. He teaches a graduate course in creative thinking at the University of Washington, runs the sacred places architecture tour at NYC's GEL conference, and writes about innovation, design and management at http://www.scottberkun.com.


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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring bridge from the mythical to the real June 10 2007
Format:Hardcover
Scott Berkun's latest book demystifies creativity. American culture is fond of myth: the myth of the lone hero, the myth of good triumphing over bad, the myth of clear moral choice. A huge crevasse separates those myths from reality. The same goes for innovation and creativity. The business press is full of books on innovation, and Berkun hints at why this might be: creative thinking is at odds with scientific management, which seeks to regiment, systematize, and quantify aspects of production. The trouble is that not all business is manufacturing, and creativity, by its very nature, cannot be systematized. Executives raised in the scientific management tradition can easily lose sight of what it takes to nurture new ideas in their workplaces.

For me, the best aspect of this book is that it says clearly that innovation is available to every person and that it requires persistence and hard work. The media love the idea of the overnight success or the one brilliant idea, but the fact is that all great ideas that turn into great products or services are mixed in a fiery crucible over a period of years, and have many dead-ends as brethren. The idea is to get started and not be intimidated by the process of creating something new. Try, even if you fail, and keep going.

He draws on a vast range of sources, old and new, as guideposts for exploring our most inhibiting preconceptions about good ideas. In some respects, the book reads like a survey of the literature, which isn't a bad thing.

There is one aspect of the book that I found distracted from its message, and that has more to do with the execution than the ideas or content. The proof-reading and fact-checking is inadequate; it is replete with mis-spellings and word omissions.
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5.0 out of 5 stars free yourself from prejudices July 26 2011
By mko TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Scott takes you in a journey over the ideas you probably well known but was not aware of details. He goes though the history of innovation,
shows us some interesting examples and provides with entertainment. I lack better proven, well formed references thou ' especially when it comes to Philosophy ' I think Scott's analogies are to shallow in few places. On the other hand, this book should entertain you ' it's obvious you will not get an answer how to create good idea. One of my teachers told us a joke once ' how to build financial empire? Well it's simple, create popular product and logo ' like Coca-Cola ' and you are set. That's more or less the book is about. It shows how great inventions were created, how they were born and brought to us by inventors who were quite often rejected by others. Descrates wrote once: 'it is necessary to reject everything that raises doubts in order to left only pure truth'. I think, this idea remains somewhere in the background throughout all the book. If you really want to be outstanding person, you can't think like others do ' you have to reject what you have been told, and do your things. Then, with little luck, you might become real inventor.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The truth be told June 9 2011
Format:Paperback
If the metric for determining if you enjoyed a book is the number of post-it-notes left on pages after the read, then The Myths of Innovation can be ranked as a good read. I consumed the book over a few weeks during my morning commute to work. The lipstick on your collar approach (it is there but washes out real easy) the company I work for, has made to innovation motivated me to explore the topic. The authors description of innovation as "significant positive change" resonated with me. Unfortunately the fallout from the read was a trail of post-it-note supporting commentary that my corporate innovation reality sucks.
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5.0 out of 5 stars myths Sept. 23 2007
Format:Hardcover
"The myths of innovation" is a witty, easy-to-read book that looks at what innovation is and how it came to be. Scott Berkun gives examples from many different aspects of innovation including business, history, culture and technology. I highly recommend this book to people how interested in innovation and change management.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  104 reviews
38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debunking Myths and Revealing Truths about Innovation May 19 2007
By K. Sampanthar - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Scott Berkun has written a great little book on debunking the myths of innovation. He uses the myths to help explain how innovation happens. He also delves into some of the reasons for why these myths are popular and then proceeds to provide some insights on how to approach innovation without falling prey to these myths.

He starts the book with a great story of when he visited Google's head quarters and joined a tour group. He describes the moment when two of his co-tourists whispered to each other pointing over to a group of programmers "I see them talking and typing, but when do they come up with their ideas". This lays the groundwork for the rest of the book. It's a question many people ask of any creative/innovative person. Scott continues to explore our fascination with innovation and our desire to find the hidden secrets. Like all myths, the ones behind innovation are derived from quaint stories from history; Newton's Apple, Archimedes' bath tub.

Each chapter addresses one of the main myths and exposes the real path to innovation:
- the myth of epiphany,
- we understand the history of innovation,
- there is a method for innovation,
- people love new ideas,
- the lone inventor
- and many more.

The book is a fun read, and Scott has a very witty writing style. His stories and personal experiences help to explain some of his counter-intuitive demythologizing. As always the classic sign of a book I love, is that by the end I have many pages highlighted and copious notes written down the margins. Scott's book definitely fell into the category of `stimulating'. Even when I disagreed with him, I agreed with his underlying point.

I highly recommend the book for anyone interested in innovation. If you believe innovation is only open to lone geniuses or you are waiting for the proverbial apple of a good idea to fall on your head, then you NEED to read this book immediately!!

Scott has done a great service by debunking many of cherished myths that hold many people back from innovating. It is ironic that a book that aims to destroy innovation myths actually provides a set of insights that will help anyone come up with ideas (whether they work at Google or not).

Kes Sampanthar
Inventor of ThinkCube
67 of 76 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will have you thinking long after the final page is turned... May 20 2007
By Thomas Duff - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
(review of 2nd edition - 10/03/2010)

"Innovation" is a word that gets used so often in marketing hype that it seems to have lost its meaning. Scott Berkun sets out to reclaim the word and offer up a true definition in his book The Myths of Innovation. I found this book so compelling while reading it on my iPad that I ended up figuring out how to do highlighting as there were many points I wanted to remember and ponder.

Table of Contents:
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; Epilogue - Beyond hype and history; Creating thinking hacks; How to pitch an idea; How to stay motivated; Research and recommendations

One of the reasons this book resonated so deeply with me is due to my view of how people add importance to events that weren't critical at the time. For instance, a particular battle may be touted as the turning point of a war, and a commander's decision a brave and ingenious move. But the battle could have just as well been lost, no one would have written it up, and some other potential outcome would have decided the war. We seem to think that the outcome we received was the only possible course, and that's incorrect. Quoting Berkun: "Yes, when we look at any history timeline, we're encouraged to believe that other outcomes were impossible. Because the events on timelines happened, regardless of how bizarre or unlikely, we view them today as predetermined." I'm glad to see that Myths fights back against this common belief.

Looking more directly at innovation, Berkun reveals another myth that bugs me to no end. "The dilemma is that, at any moment, it's difficult to know whether we're witnessing progress or merely, in a hill-climbing distraction, a short-term gain with negative long-term consequences." We can't know how things are going to turn out, and there are far too many examples of ideas and "innovations" that were found out later to have horrible long-term effects. DDT, anyone?

Just one more example that caused me to do a "yes!" when I was reading... We attach major significance to objects that, at the time, were common. The Rosetta Stone is thought to be one of the most significant discoveries and artifacts ever found. But the text on the stone is nothing but basic, everyday communication to the people of the time. It would be like someone discovering a piece of our junk mail 1000 years from now and declaring it a significant piece of 21st century communication. Yet at the time, we throw it away. Because we look at the Rosetta Stone as enabling us to decipher ancient languages, we tend to revere the stone itself. But it's really just a common thing that happened to survive the centuries, and we've attached significance to the item that wasn't intended when it was first created.

Berkun goes on in the later chapters to help you understand the true nature of innovation, as well has how the process of getting and developing ideas is available to any of us. Coming away from reading Myths, you should understand that innovation is hard work, it's not a single event, and your ideas build upon the ideas of others. In addition, what you think your idea is good for and what actually happens to it could be two entirely different things. When the first HTML page was built and put on a network for sharing, no one could have imagined what the Internet would end up becoming.

The Myths of Innovation is a top-notch read, and one that you should plan on revisiting often...

Disclosure:
Obtained From: Publisher
Payment: Free
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Innovation is what brilliant minds have thrust upon them in the middle of the night May 28 2007
By Vanessa Howell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Right?

Not really. In this book Scott does a great job debunking the commonly held myths about innovation in a witty, approachable style. If you've ever wondered how innovation happens, or how to improve the innovativeness and creativity of your team this book is worth a read.

I particularly enjoyed the insight in chapter 4- people don't really love new ideas, but you'll find similar gems throughout the book.

I gave it only 4 stars, because after I'd finished reading the book I came away wanting something more (though lots of great references and links are provided) - perhaps more stories to get involved in, or just to enjoy Scott's humor for a while longer.

Overall I recommend this book, you'll gain some new insights and a new perspective on your old ones.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, worthwhile read June 11 2007
By Terry Bleizeffer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Have you ever been to a party and met someone with a great job and a great sense of humor and ended up spending the entire party drinking beer and swapping interesting stories? That's what Scott Berkun's new book, "The Myths of Innovation", felt like to me. There are lots of books on my shelf that I know I ought to read, and many of them I struggle through and afterwards feel like it was a valuable investment of my time, however painful. This wasn't one of them - this is one of those rare books that feels like reading for pleasure, and yet you learn something along the way.

And I might add that the colophon alone is worth the price of the book (a sentence that perhaps has never been written).

I wonder how much time and research Berkun did on this book before he came up with the idea of orienting the book around myths? Was that the idea all along? Or did it emerge over time? Because it turns out to be a perfect way of presenting the material. First, everyone loves to feel like they know something that other people don't - the truth behind the myths. This "peeking behind the curtain" approach is a great way to keep the material interesting. Second, innovation is such a complex area that it would be very difficult to write a book about what innovation is -- it's a lot easier to talk about what it isn't. But by providing the boundaries via the myths, it inevitably provides great insight into how innovation really happens. And third, myth debunking seems to fit Berkun's auctorial voice. His casual, conversational tone is not only funny and engaging, but it naturally allows the type of speculation and interpretation that is necessary for the topic. In other words, a textbook-style examination of innovation would be a very poor choice.

While I enjoyed the entire book, I particularly enjoyed in the section on the myth of "the best idea wins". In it, Berkun describes the many factors that are involved in whether an innovation succeeds, and how being the "best" is only one of many factors. When it comes to design innovation in established software, the impact of "dominant design" is always a challenge - what is the cost of moving to something better when you have a large customer base who already knows how to use the product? One example in the book is the QWERTY keyboard that we all know and loathe. But to lesser degree this is always the case - I can't convince my wife to move from Paint to Photoshop for editing pictures because she knows how to use Paint. Whenever I try to tell her about how many great features there are in Photoshop, all she hears is "blah... blah... blah... [it will take lots of time to learn]... blah... blah... blah."

I recommend this book highly to anyone who has a job where innovation matters... which is just about everyone.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A book written like a cheesy blog Dec 9 2009
By Benjamin Johnston - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed reading this book, it was a quick light-hearted read. While I didn't learn anything earth-shattering, it was a nice way to pass a few hours and to inspire a bit of brain-storming. The author did try to inject humour in his writing, but much of it came across as rather cheesy.

If that is what you're after, then this book is fine. If you're after something more serious, then I would suggest looking elsewhere.

The author doesn't appear to have done any real research aside from surfing the web and chatting to people in bars. The book reads more like a personal blog of somebody who spends a lot of time reading about innovation. About half of the books "citations" were to web-pages (many of which are now dead links).

Overall this book comes across as an earnest attempt by a "pro-am". I suspect that it would have made for a great blog if the author turned each chapter into a post; but as a book it just feels cheesy and lacking real substance or authority.

I would have given it only one or two stars on the basis of the content, if not for the fact that the light-hearted tone made it enjoyable to read. So, overall, it's "Okay".
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