What’s Your Favorite Innovation Book?

Happy new year my readers and friends.

While I once wrote that everything written about innovation is useless (including my own writing), we continue to write about it because writing is thinking, and there’s a lot of problems to think through. The result is some writing that is truly insightful and/or based on hard-won experience, and other writing that is boastful noise. In the spirit of avoiding easy answers and helping us think through tough problems, I’d like to know…

What’s your favorite innovation book (a book that helps you be innovative)?

I’ll start with mine…

Innovative Friends: Alex Wright

I’m psyched that Alex Wright now calls New York home. He is one of the few thinkers of technology and information that can simultaneously ply his trade during the day and theorize with the best in his spare time. I’m looking forward to his new book Glut: Mastering Information Through the Ages in which he surveys the history of methods for managing oceans of information for clues of where we’re headed.

And I’m tickled that he received a review from James Burke of BBC’s Connections, how appropriate…

This is a must-read for anybody who wants to understand where we’ve been and where we’re going. A lucid, exciting book full of flashes of surprise about how we’ve done it all before: prehistoric beads as networking aids, 3rd century random access systems, 7th century Irish monastic bloggers, 11th century multimedia, 16th century hypertext. I wish I’d written it!

Business Books for Designers

My friend Austin wrote me, “I’m putting together a list of recommended books for designers interested in strategy, the business side, and jumping into entrepreneurship. Can you recommend 3-5 books you think are indispensable?

I don’t think there’s a single book that fits that description well, and I’ve wondered if a ‘business for designers’ book would be popular or not. But pressed for an answer, here’s the 3-5 I pointed to:

What the CEO Wants You to Know — what I use as a textbook in my ‘Business & Design’ class at Pratt. A simple primer.

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days — reading it now, very interesting as history and very reassuring for me during the initial, difficult stage of building a business to know everyone goes through the same pain.

Strategy Safari is probably the best primer on strategy. Innovator’s Dilemma is important these days, as is Blue Ocean Strategy. Though they’re all so long I don’t have time to actually read any of them; they’re reference.

Want more? John Hagel (whose writing is excellent) has a great list of tech-influenced strategy references.

Books on European Innovation

A day after my recent musings, the Wall Street Journal looked at three books on European growth…

Cousins and Strangers is written by the last British governer to Hong Kong and a former EU commissioner. Most of the text seems to mirror the kind of Bush administration bashing that progressives in the US already do, so nothing new there. It could be interesting for Americans to better understand how Europeans view themselves in relation to the U.S.

In The Next Superpower? Rockwell Schnabel argues that the EU is a serious global economic force, and Americans need to pay heed. No argument there. He worries about overregulation and Europeans’ inability to take risk in order to make progress.

It’s Why Europe Will Run the 21st Century that looks like the really interesting read for its counter-intuitive stance. The author, Mark Leonard, points out that two billion people now live in Europe’s “zone of influence” and gradually adopt European ways of doing things. This includes the EU’s 80,000 pages of regulations which, while seeming to hobble flexibility on the surface, is also dramatically changing any country that must obey them upon entry to the EU. So whereas the U.S. uses force to achieve regime change in Afghanistan, Leonard argues that the new power will be softer, as with the EU’s peaceful transformation of “all of Polish society.

Content Management Bible

I’ve realized I’m much too stingy about buying books. Most books I would ever consider buying easily bring me enough pleasure or save me enough time to justify their cost. Add in the fact that you can easily resell them or pass them on to grateful people and the whole thing just gives me the warm fuzzies.

Today’s Book Value of the Day is Bob Boiko’s Content Management Bible.

A massive volume full of solid knowledge expertly written. Many people would save hours, days, or weeks of work if only they read this book before embarking on building a content management system. Building a medium or large system well is often difficult because, unless you’re a consultant, it’s rare to have previous experience. Shelling out a mere $35 to learn from other’s mistakes will pay for itself in one hour of saved time.

Organizational Design

I have a long-time friend who is an organizational design consultant. She has a masters degree from Columbia University, works for a boutigue org design firm, and studied with Warner Burke, the leader of the field. She taught me a lot over the years. If you don’t have someone like this in your life and you find yourself entangled in organizations (doing, for example, Enterprise IA) you should own the book she recommends: Warner Burke’s Organization Development: A Process of Learning and Changing.

It’s a small book, and not cheap, but probably available at your local academic library. It’s a primer, and a thorough one at that. It might help us stop whining about how organizations fail and instead learn how to fix them. It’s the first of my own little recommended book list that will hopefully unearth some different picks than what you’re used to seeing, the noise between bookshelves :) .