Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reading List - I

On the topic of reading, Abraham Lincoln once said,
"Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren't very new after all."
I've been asked over the last few months by friends, colleagues and innovation clients variations on the same question - "What books do you read?".

In looking at the various bookcases scattered throughout my house, I rapidly must come to the conclusion that I am thoroughly unoriginal in everything that I do. Here then, to level the playing field, is the first in a series of articles in 2009 about books I'm reading, have read (or may be reading again), and recommend for a variety of business, innovation and creative interests.

I'm going to break the list up into categories where the similarity of some of the books are concerned, just to add a little structure.


Ok, Patents? You've got to be kidding, right? The world of temporary monopolies and their legalese? Books written by people who didn't have enough personality to become defense attorneys? Patents play an ever-increasing important role in innovation, product development, and monetization of ideas. Yet, the ins and outs of patent research and strategy can be elusive, if not downright frustrating. I've got several well-worn books that never leave my side on these topics, especially recently.

"Rembrandts In The Attic", by Kevin Rivette. Most ideas are never monetized. In this book, Kevin Rivette's strategies for making an organization more savvy about their intellectual property are valuable on their own (though are slightly dated, having been written at the height of the dot-com boom). In today's economic climate, the text serves a purpose that I don't think was intended - an allegory for optimizing the small-scale R&D organization.

"Patents For Business", by M. Henry Heines. An invaluable tool for the engineering manager, product executive, or group leader who needs to navigate the essentials of patent strategy and due diligence. Check out Jim Todhunter's review over at Innovating To Win.

Business Strategy

I tend to read HBR the same way most people never admit - at their local bookstore, with a notebook and over several lattes, before putting it back on the shelf until the next issue. If you're going to be in a position where you work with people that directly shape or impact managing a business, from a sole-proprietorship to a megacorporation spanning hundreds of thousands of employees, you simply cannot afford ignorance of classic, modern, and changing business tactics. Here's a small sample of what I'm chewing through right now.

"The Self-Destructive Habits Of Good Companies", by Jagdish N. Sheth. Can companies become arrogant? Is incumbency of talent a curse? Does success breed failure? If you think you're doing fine in '09, think again. Warning signs of business and product missteps, caught early enough, are opportunities for product, process, and organizational innovation.

"The Art Of Strategy", by Avinish K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff. How should people behave in business? No matter how calculating and logical your thought processes are, you can't ignore the human element in planning any activity where people are involved. Applied game theory is a fascinating topic in business, at least until everyone is thinking about it at the same time (a variant on the Prisoners' Dilemma game).

Innovation and Design

The growing majority of my readership comes from the innovation community. We all have one trait in common - we want the answer right away. So to keep the gig going as any good consultant would, I've saved a few books on innovation for the last part of this article.

"The Design Of Future Things", by Donald A. Norman. In this long awaited sequel to "The Design Of Everyday Things", Norman (a former Apple executive) looks at the advances and perils of automation and integration of "smart" technologies into any and all products that affect day to day living.

"American Streamlined Design: The World Of Tomorrow", by David A. Hanks and Anne Hoy. Design and innovation are eternally at odds with each other balancing constraints of form and function. When both have emerged victorious, the results are some of the most beautiful embodiments of engineering and art. The 1930's and 1940's were unique decades in American design where anything from the simplest tool to the most complex machine was not complete unless they were designed with grace and beauty. I draw much of my own inspiration from this period.

"The Global Brain", by Satish Nambisan and Mohanbir Sawhney. One size rarely fits all, especially in innovation. What works for one company may not for another, yet elements of innovative success can often be leveraged outside the organization that created them. Identifying, shaping, and deploying a "network-centric" innovation model is the theme of this book, which offers some interesting roadmaps.

This list should get you started for a little while. Don't worry, I'll share more books on innovation and other categories in future articles throughout the year. At last count I've conservatively gone through 50 books in just the past 18 months.