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25 of the Best Books on Innovation -

Jesse Nieminen

Regardless of which stats you look at or believe, innovation is without a doubt difficult. Thus, if you’re looking to succeed in it, you need to invest heavily into continuous learning.

There are, fortunately, plenty of great books out there that can help you succeed in innovation, in 2020 and beyond. With the next decade ahead of us, now’s a great time to catch up on your reading.

I actually wrote a list of some of my favorite books on innovation last year, and I thought now would be a great time to update that list and share it with the followers of our blog.

Some of the best books on innovation

While some of the books on the list aren’t just about innovation specifically, they’ve nevertheless proven to be very useful on our quest to better understand how to lead and manage innovation.

So, without further ado, here’s my current top 25.

1. The Innovator’s Dilemma

Originally published in 1997, this book written by Harvard professor Clayton Christensen is probably the most well-known book on innovation, and for good reason.The Innovator's Dilemma

The book explains very clearly why disruptive and breakthrough innovations are so difficult for large organizations. In essence, they fail not because they would be poorly managed, but because they are actually managed in a very sound, rational way that just happens to disincentivize innovation.

As such, the book is a great primer for anyone looking to understand the relationship between innovation and large organizations. Given that it simply focuses on the theory of disruptive innovation, it isn’t very actionable, but is still my first recommendation for anyone looking to familiarize themselves with the topic.

2. The Innovator’s Solution

The Innovator’s Solution is the follow-up for The Innovator’s Dilemma that Christensen co-authored with Michael Raynor.The Innovator's Solution

Where the Innovator’s Dilemma focused on explaining the theory of disruptive innovation, this book seeks to be a more practical guide explaining how organizations can become disruptors themselves.

The book is well-written, and the proposed thoughts are presented and illustrated very clearly. Highly recommended reading for every innovator, regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur, or work in a corporation.

3. Crossing the Chasm

One of the oldest books in the list, Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore is a great book built on top of the theory on the diffusion of innovation.Crossing the Chasm

The basic idea is that every innovation is first used by a set of early adopters with very different value drivers from the mainstream market, which the innovation must ultimately reach if it is to become truly successful. That difference is “the Chasm”, and it has resulted in the death of many a great startup and product.

The book provides a pragmatic take on how to successfully bridge that gap, which has been very helpful in shaping our thinking regarding the lifecycle of an innovation early-on.

4. Blue Ocean Strategy

Blue Ocean Strategy is another book on innovation with a background in academia. Written by INSEAD professors W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, it is built on their work regarding value innovation.Blue Ocean Strategy

The basic idea is that by identifying differentiated value-drivers from the existing competition in the market, a company is able to create innovation that delivers significantly increased value at a lower cost, leading to differentiation and a sustainable competitive advantage.

This differentiation allows you to have your own peaceful “blue ocean” instead of the highly competitive ocean turning red from all the blood spilled by the struggling competitors.

This idea has been at the core of what we’ve always strived for at Viima, and has been a big factor for our impressive growth in a highly competitive market regardless of us having far less resources than most of our competitors.

5. Ten Types of Innovation

Traditionally innovation has mostly been seen as a synonym for new product development, which is still an unfortunately common point-of-view.Ten types of innovation

In our experience, all top innovators have a much more holistic view of innovation. This is a view shared by Larry Keeley, the author of the book and co-founder of innovation consultancy Doblin.

Based on their research, they’ve identified 10 different ways to use innovation to create competitive advantage, referred to as types of innovations, that ultimately led to innovation success.

The book provides tons of illustrative examples and actionable tools for achieving these results in your organization.

6. Competing Against Luck

Another book written by Christensen and his co-authors, Competing Against Luck explains the “Jobs to Be Done” theory and illustrates how it can be used as a predictable way for creating new businesses and innovations.Competing against luck

The basic idea of Jobs to Be Done is that customers don’t really want to buy products or services, but instead are looking to “hire” them to fulfil a specific need, or in other words, get a job done.

While this might initially seem like a fine difference, the practical implications or actually quite profound. According to the authors, this allows companies to go beyond the traditional way of managing innovation by “playing the odds”, to instead creating predictable success.

The book does a great job explaining the approach, as well as the challenges associated with. Namely, even if it is a clear method that can predictably lead to innovation, successfully using it isn’t necessarily easy in many situations.

7. Loonshots

Loonshots, written by physicist and entrepreneur Safi Bahcall, provides an intriguing take on innovation by using frameworks and theories derived from physics.Loonshots

The book has a number of fresh ideas on the challenges that large organizations face when it comes to innovation, most of which revolve around structures and incentives.

Once you understand the dynamics of how these factors work, it's much easier to predict whether innovation will happen, or not, in any given organization.

The examples used in the book explained the stories of many familiar innovations in great detail, which I personally found fascinating.

8. Playing to Win

Strategy is one of the things you absolutely have to get right with innovation. The innovation strategy of an organization must be properly aligned with the overall strategy of the organization, and it must be executed well.Playing to Win

Playing to Win is a great book on strategy that cuts all of the fluff away and gets to the core of the topic: making tough choices under uncertainty. As the authors put it well: “Strategy is not complex. But it is hard.”

While the examples in the book come primarily from P&G, quite understandable given A.G. Lafley’s background as the CEO, they are very illustrative in explaining the basic theses of the book. This is also the most practical and pragmatic book I’ve read on strategy.

The frameworks outlined in the book have worked well as the foundation for our own strategy work, which goes to show that even the fundamentals are the same even if our company is but a fraction of the size of P&G.

9. Good strategy/Bad strategy

As the name would suggest, Richard Rumelt provides his take on what makes a good strategy good, and a bad one bad in this book.Good strategy/Bad strategy

He starts the book by going off on a bit of rant regarding bad strategy. Still, while certainly provocative, he manages to clearly explain why bad strategy is so common and what the typical mistakes are.

He then proceeds to provide guidelines on what actually makes good strategy. The message here is consistent with Playing to Win: strategy is, in the end, surprisingly simple, but nonetheless hard in practice.

Despite Rumelt’s academic background, the book is very pragmatic and contains quite a few interesting stories from his career.

10. Blitzscaling

In the last couple of decades, we’ve seen a number of technology companies, such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, achieve tremendous growth and scale in a very short time span.Blitzscaling

In this book, Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and partner at Greylock Partners and Chris Yeh, explain the concept behind their rapid growth, which they refer to as Blitzscaling.

The basic idea is that in the digital age, the profits in many markets are determined on a winner-takes-all (or at least most) basis. Thus, to achieve this, you have to be “first to scale”. This naturally requires dramatic investments to growth.

If you’d like to better understand the Silicon Valley mindset and the practices these hyper-growth companies apply, this is the book for you.

11. Ego is the Enemy

In this age of shameless self-promotion, Ryan Holiday’s take on the topic is very refreshing reminder of our own fallibility.Ego is the enemy

The basic premise of the book is that most of the time, our own ego is actually our worst enemy. It can impede our learning, make us blind to our mistakes, as well as make recovery from mistakes more difficult.

And nowhere is this more important to understand than in innovation. We are guaranteed to make mistakes, so learning and recovering from them is just a part of the job description. Also, if we let our egos blind our critical thinking, we are doomed to fail in the process.

12. BOLD

We live in an age of innovation. An increasing number of exponential technologies are reshaping our society, and this book by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler seeks to explain how you can take advantage of these drivers to go big and impact the world.Bold

The first part of the book explains the changing dynamics, the second part goes deeper in explaining how companies can harness these powers, and the third focuses mostly on harnessing tools such as crowdfunding for getting the job done.

I personally found the first half of the book very useful and inspiring and am sure it will be extremely useful for many. The second half of the book is much more specific and might thus not be for everyone.

13. High Output Management

High Output Management, written by Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, is one of the most beloved and widely acclaimed books on management. And as with everything else in business, proper management is also crucial for innovation success.High Output Management

As a first-time founder, this book has been extremely influential for me personally and after adapting many of the practices from this book in our team, we’ve seen our productivity and business results improve dramatically on many fronts.

I especially love the way Grove has a systematic no-nonsense approach, but still manages to take the softer “human factors” into account.

14. From Impossible to Inevitable

In innovation, we often obsess about the idea and the product, while forgetting that creating a rapidly growing business from the innovation takes a lot more than that.From impossible to inevitable

While many of the advice might be quite specific to SaaS companies, Impossible to Inevitable is still a great reminder on the importance of proper business execution, while providing tons of highly practical ideas and advice.

If your innovation is software or B2B related, this is without a doubt worth reading.

15. This Is Marketing