With his second book, The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun takes a different approach to the subject. With The Art of Project Management, he provides a detailed and very useful guidebook to navigating the difficult world of managing people and projects. The Myths of Innovation is built (quite logically) around a series of relatively common myths about innovations and innovators. While I thought that I knew about the myths, the power of the story often remains even when you know that it’s not true and Berkun manages to puncture the myths, while explaining the appeal. We all love a story about the bold lone inventor who had a brilliant idea that changed the world, but we don’t like hearing about the failed inventions or the team of people who painstakingly followed the many dead-ends in the development of the product. Berkun shows how our love of a good story can make us miss what is important in creating anything. You need hard work, a willingness to follow your instincts, determination and being able to keep working even though many of your ideas will fail or will not be accepted.
The book is well-organized and entertaining with an extensive and annotated bibliography that can keep you reading for years. The concepts are covered clearly and extensive web links throughout the book allow you to find a broader context online as a springboard for more exploration. Berkun also drew on the experiences of innovators that he talked with and via a survey. While the book is casual and fun, it has a solid foundation based on research and experience. You can read it from front to back as I did, or jump around without getting lost. It’s also a book that will be good to revisit for relevant stories and perspective as the challenge of trying something new starts to bog you down.
While much of the book debunks myths, it’s also encouraging as the underlying message is that dedication and working together with people is essential for innovation to take place. It’s the combination of all of the right factors that allows things to succeed and not merit or genius or luck. It’s a call to action against complacency and conventional wisdom and it will hopefully get people to become more aware of what they are doing and the possibilities and opportunities that often exist in front of you if you’re willing to see them.
The book boldly concludes by asking if innovation is inherently good, which made me think a lot about how our views of what we do and what we use evolve. I no longer use a pda, but a combination of tools that include a laptop, a cell phone, the web, and notebooks and pens. Progress and innovation doesn’t mean more tiny devices or new things, but the innovative use of what is appropriate and what works.