The best innovation books

16 authors have picked their favorite books about innovation and why they recommend each book.

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The Ten Faces of Innovation

By Tom Kelley, Jonathan Littman,

Book cover of The Ten Faces of Innovation: IDEO's Strategies for Beating the Devil's Advocate and Driving Creativity Throughout Your Organization

This is the follow up to The Art of Innovation which describes the strategies of the world-famous design firm, IDEO, which has dissected the process of innovation and, in this book, identified the types of “personas” a CEO should attract in order to tackle big, difficult problems with novel, creative approaches.  I could definitely relate to the first persona described, The Anthropologist, who spends an inordinate amount of time with the clients, listening and observing, in order to understand what they really desire and what has prevented them thus far from achieving or obtaining it.  I also found The Cross-Pollinator interesting, which argued that you should sometimes involve people from other sectors or countries which may at first glance seem irrelevant to the job at hand but, if given the chance to be “heard”, could lead to a solution.  The author makes the case for another eight personas, who may…


Who am I?

Rupert Scofield is the President & CEO of a global financial services empire spanning 20 countries of Latin America, Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East, serving millions of the world’s poorest families, especially women. Scofield has spent the better part of his life dodging revolutions, earthquakes and assassins in the Third World, and once ran for his life from a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia.


I wrote...

Default to Bold: Anatomy of a Turnaround

By Rupert Scofield,

Book cover of Default to Bold:  Anatomy of a Turnaround

What is my book about?

Default to Bold is a guide to surviving and thriving, in business and life, during moments of crisis. While logic would tell you the best response is to keep a low profile, it is the counter-intuitive response of defaulting to bold that works best, throwing your enemies off-balance and reminding your allies why they trusted you in the first place.

Over the past three decades, Rupert Scofield built a billion-dollar microfinance empire in some of the most difficult markets on earth. Against all odds, he delivered 80 straight quarters of profits, becoming in the process a “living legend” in the microfinance and social enterprise spaces. Suddenly, a global crisis in Emerging Markets, triggered by collapsing oil and other commodity prices devalues currencies worldwide and plunges FINCA into losses. The six minority investors, including the IFC (World Bank) and five other self-described “social investors” screamed for Scofield’s resignation. Also arrayed against FINCA are over 40 lenders, including the investors, who collectively have lent $800 million dollars to FINCA and are now clamoring for their money back. How the author and his colleagues prevail against these enormous odds is a testimony to the power of a bold strategy.

Only the Paranoid Survive

By Andrew S. Grove,

Book cover of Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company

This book is a guide to surviving an existential crisis – what Grove calls a Strategic Inflection Point – when your business is subjected to one or more of six external forces, which, if powerful enough, could destroy the business.  Some of them are obvious – competitors, regulators, customers, vendors – but others more esoteric, like “the possibility your business could be done a different way”, what today we would call being disrupted.  I read it in 2015, when the company I run, FINCA International, was facing five of these six forces, each of which clobbered us with a 10x force compared to the first three decades of our existence, when competition was weak and most external forces enabled our success. How does a CEO respond to this challenge?  Grove’s answer is summarized in the title: remain in a permanent state of dread, which to outsiders might appear on the…


Who am I?

Rupert Scofield is the President & CEO of a global financial services empire spanning 20 countries of Latin America, Africa, Eurasia and the Middle East, serving millions of the world’s poorest families, especially women. Scofield has spent the better part of his life dodging revolutions, earthquakes and assassins in the Third World, and once ran for his life from a mob in Mogadishu, Somalia.


I wrote...

Default to Bold: Anatomy of a Turnaround

By Rupert Scofield,

Book cover of Default to Bold:  Anatomy of a Turnaround

What is my book about?

Default to Bold is a guide to surviving and thriving, in business and life, during moments of crisis. While logic would tell you the best response is to keep a low profile, it is the counter-intuitive response of defaulting to bold that works best, throwing your enemies off-balance and reminding your allies why they trusted you in the first place.

Over the past three decades, Rupert Scofield built a billion-dollar microfinance empire in some of the most difficult markets on earth. Against all odds, he delivered 80 straight quarters of profits, becoming in the process a “living legend” in the microfinance and social enterprise spaces. Suddenly, a global crisis in Emerging Markets, triggered by collapsing oil and other commodity prices devalues currencies worldwide and plunges FINCA into losses. The six minority investors, including the IFC (World Bank) and five other self-described “social investors” screamed for Scofield’s resignation. Also arrayed against FINCA are over 40 lenders, including the investors, who collectively have lent $800 million dollars to FINCA and are now clamoring for their money back. How the author and his colleagues prevail against these enormous odds is a testimony to the power of a bold strategy.

The New Geography of Jobs

By Enrico Moretti,

Book cover of The New Geography of Jobs

Moretti’s book is, I think, woefully underappreciated. He gives a clear portrait of different regions of the United States, classifying them on the basis of their current economic structure and not on a predetermined political split or on industrial classifications from fifty years ago. It shows that we are in the midst of a substantial economic transformation that likely rivals the shifts seen during the early industrial revolution. This book gives you a real sense of what a “knowledge economy” will look like. More than that, though, he shows how that transformation could be beneficial to everyone (but might not).


Who am I?

I’m a professor of economics at the University of Houston, with a focus on long-run growth and development rather than things like quarterly stock returns. I write a blog on growth economics where I try hard to boil down technical topics to their core intuition, and I’m the co-author of a popular textbook on economic growth.


I wrote...

Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success

By Dietrich Vollrath,

Book cover of Fully Grown: Why a Stagnant Economy Is a Sign of Success

What is my book about?

Most economists would agree that a thriving economy is synonymous with GDP growth. The more we produce and consume, the higher our living standard and the more resources available to the public. This means that our current era, in which growth has slowed substantially from its postwar highs, has raised alarm bells. But should it? Is growth actually the best way to measure economic success--and does our slowdown indicate economic problems?

Big Little Breakthroughs

By Josh Linkner,

Book cover of Big Little Breakthroughs: How Small, Everyday Innovations Drive Oversized Results

So often we get “stuck” because we think we have to come up with a really big idea in order to have an impact and to achieve substantial results. Nope! Linkner explains why it is a mistake to put pressure on ourselves to “Go Big.” It’s often the little ideas that lead to the best, most significant results. This book chronicles all kinds of amazingly accomplished people – Lin Manuel Miranda, Lady Gaga, Steven Spielberg, etc. Linkner’s story-telling will convince you to focus on small things and will help you unlock your creativity.


Who am I?

I have firsthand experience in some of the harshest environments on the planet. I’ve survived sub-zero temperatures, hurricane force winds, sudden avalanches…and a career on Wall Street. I served as team captain of the first American Women’s Everest Expedition, climbed the highest peak on every continent (the “7 Summits”), and skied to both the North and South Poles. I spent four years as an adjunct professor at the US Military Academy at West Point. Awarded the 2019 Ellis Island Medal of Honor. I have a beer named after me. I love dogs. Three heart surgeries could not slow me down. NY Times bestselling author of On the Edge. I’ve had some high profile failures and have been the butt of late night talk show opening monologue jokes. Come at me!


I wrote...

On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments

By Alison Levine,

Book cover of On the Edge: Leadership Lessons from Mount Everest and Other Extreme Environments

What is my book about?

In On the Edge, Levine makes a compelling case that the leadership principles that apply in the world of extreme adventure also apply to today’s rigorously competitive business environments. Both settings require you to make critical decisions when the conditions around you are far from perfect. Your survival—and the survival of your team—totally depend on it. The advice in the book comes not only from Levine’s own experiences in life or death situations, but also from lessons she has learned from decorated military officers, successful business leaders, and legendary sports heroes. Much of it is flat-out contrarian and flies in the face of what you’ve been told by well-known management gurus and highly-paid executive coaches: encourage big egos, go backward—away from your goal, ignore the rules, ditch the plan, deprive yourself of sleep, and reward failure. But it works for her. And it can work for you too.

On the Edge provides a roadmap to help you scale whatever big peaks you aspire to climb—be they literal or figurative—by offering practical, humorous, and often unorthodox advice about how to reach your potential as a leader.

Grassroots Innovation

By Anil K. Gupta,

Book cover of Grassroots Innovation: Minds On The Margin Are Not Marginal Minds

The discourse on modern India is often about achievements in science and technology, R&D in national laboratories, and industry. However, in a country of one billion plus people, innovation is happening not just in formal sectors. Ordinary people – farmers, teachers, students, artisans, school dropouts, homemakers – are constantly innovating to solve everyday problems using frugal means. The book is an account of spotting grassroots innovations, nurturing them, and building networks with formal systems and markets. It is critical to understand this process for a deeper appreciation of contemporary India. 


Who am I?

I am a journalist who has strayed into book writing with a particular interest in the history of post-independent and contemporary India. My interest in this subject developed as an offshoot of reporting on landmark changes during the period of economic liberalization in the 1990s. One of the astounding stories of this period was the rise of the technology industry and the outsourcing business. A deeper study of this took me back to the period of independence in 1947 and decades before it.  


I wrote...

The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution

By Dinesh C. Sharma,

Book cover of The Outsourcer: The Story of India's IT Revolution

What is my book about?

A history of how India became a major player in the global technology industry, mapping technological, economic, and political transformations. The rise of the Indian information technology industry is a remarkable economic success story. Software and services exports from India amounted to less than $100 million in 1990, and today come close to $100 billion.

But, as Dinesh Sharma explains in The Outsourcer, Indian IT's success has a long prehistory. The foundations of India's IT revolution were laid long ago, even before the country's independence from British rule in 1947, as leading Indian scientists established research institutes that became centers for the development of computer science and technology. The “miracle” of Indian IT is actually a story about the long work of converting skills and knowledge into capital and wealth. 

New Fathers, Mental Health and Digital Communication

By Paul Hodkinson, Ranjana Das,

Book cover of New Fathers, Mental Health and Digital Communication

This book explores the experiences of new fathers struggling with mental health difficulties and focuses on the role of digital media as part of their approaches to coping. Hodkinson and Das show how the ways new fathers are positioned by society can make it hard for them to recognize their struggles as legitimate, or reach out for help. The book explores a range of different uses of digital communication by struggling fathers, from selective forms of disconnection, to the seeking out of online information or support.


Who am I?

Mark Williams is a keynote speaker, author, and international campaigner. In 2004 he himself experienced depression and suffered in silence for years until he entered community mental health services. He founded International Fathers Mental Health Day and #Howareyoudad campaign to make sure all parents are having support for the whole family. In 2020 Mark published the report called "Fathers Reaching Out - Why Dads Matter" to explain the importance of paternal mental health which has far better outcomes for the whole family and the development of the child when we include fathers. Mark is also an ambassador for Mothers For Mothers Charity.


I wrote...

Fathers and Perinatal Mental Health: A Guide for Recognition, Treatment and Management

By Jane Hanley, Mark Williams,

Book cover of Fathers and Perinatal Mental Health: A Guide for Recognition, Treatment and Management

What is my book about?

It is only in recent years that there has been development in the awareness of the father’s mental health. Yet, the father’s mental health can influence the mother, the infant, the family, and society. This book seeks to address the reasons why the father or the potential father could suffer from a mental disorder or illness during the perinatal period, his reactions, and what can be done to help him.

The book explores the way in which fathers’ mental health has presented in the past and how it presents now. It looks at the father’s attitudes towards his mental well-being and how he may self-manage and self-medicate. It examines the impact and influences the potential father and the father’s mental health has on his partner, infant, and children.

The Profit Paradox

By Jan Eeckhout,

Book cover of The Profit Paradox: How Thriving Firms Threaten the Future of Work

This book addresses another highly charged topic, the exorbitant profits of tech and internet giants. The focus is on the consequences of the huge profits on competition, economic policy, and society at large. 1% of the world’s largest companies reap 36% of global so-called economic profit, that is the profit that exceeds the cost of capital. The book, which is punctuated with juicy examples, is very didactic as well as rigorous, and will appeal not only to those versed in economics but to the enlightened public in general. It is, however, not a book on how to manage profit, but rather how to address the problems resulting from super-profits. 


Who am I?

Hermann Simon is a world-renowned expert on price and profit management. He is the founder and honorary chairman of Simon-Kucher & Partners, the global leader in price and topline consulting with 1700 employees and 41 offices worldwide. He is the only German in the Thinkers50 Hall of Fame of the most influential management thinkers. In China a business school is named in his honor. Profit is at the core of Hermann’s writing and consulting activities.


I wrote...

True Profit!: No Company Ever Went Broke Turning a Profit

By Hermann Simon,

Book cover of True Profit!: No Company Ever Went Broke Turning a Profit

What is my book about?

Profit is the most important indicator of business success. It is all the more surprising that there is no “pure” profit book. This book is the first and only one. It clears up false profit concepts and gets to the bottom of actual profits. Profit is the cost of survival. The ethics of profit, as well as the causes of low profits, and the therapy for high profits are discussed. Finally, I prove that price, with a profit multiplier of 10, is the most effective profit driver, followed by cost, with a multiplier of 6, and sales volume, which has a multiplier of only 4.

The book is strategic and equally relevant for large and small companies.

The Myths of Creativity

By David Burkus,

Book cover of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth about How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas

I love contrarian thinking. It’s by definition creative…new, novel, useful. That’s what David Burkus does with this book. There are a lot of conventional thoughts about creativity and the generation of innovative ideas that are held out as universal truths, but just aren’t. True, that is. David takes them all to task, pokes holes in them with science and logic and good old thoughtful insight, and dispels an entire family of mythology...misconceptions all relating to creative thinking: brainstorming, collaborating, incentivizing, and about a dozen more. Prepare to have much of your current understanding of creativity shaken.


Who am I?

For as long I can remember, I’ve been an ideas guy. I even like the idea of ideas…I guess that makes me a meta-idea guy. But not just any ideas. Ideas that achieve the maximum impact with the minimum means. Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, “I wouldn’t give a fig for simplicity on this side of complexity, but I’d give my life for simplicity on the other side of complexity.” Creative ideas are the main event of the imagination, and the simpler the better. I've written and published several books, hundreds of articles and blogs, and even had dozens of songs published. But by far my favorite creative accomplishment is winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest in 2008.


I wrote...

Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking

By Matthew E. May,

Book cover of Winning the Brain Game: Fixing the 7 Fatal Flaws of Thinking

What is my book about?

Science confirms the distinction between the biological brain and the conscious mind. Each day, a game of mind versus matter plays out on a field defined by the problems we must solve. Most are routine, and don’t demand a more mindful approach. It’s when we’re faced with more difficult challenges that our thinking becomes vulnerable to brain patterns that can lead us astray.

In Winning the Brain Game, author and creative strategist Matthew E. May explains several “fatal flaws” of thinking. Calling on modern neuroscience and psychology to help explain these flaws, he blends in a field-tested set of “fixes” proven through hundreds of creative sessions to raise our thinking game to a more mindful level.

Pipe Dreams

By Chelsea Wald,

Book cover of Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

I recommend this book because it completely reshapes our view of the toilet—a fixture most of us don’t give much thought to. Yet, this modern miracle of convenience is, at the same time, a huge failure--less than half of the world’s population has access to safe toilets. What’s more, our Western toilets are a massive waste of resources—water, energy, and the organic fertilizer that sewage can be converted to. Wald shows why toilets desperately need a massive upgrade and opens our eyes to what toilets can be—if we care to revamp them. She also adds why we may not have a choice in the matter because resources aren’t infinite. 


Who am I?

Born and raised in Russia, I watched my grandfather fertilize our family’s organic orchard with composted sewage every fall. “You have to feed the earth the way you feed people,” he said, essentially describing what today we call a circular economy. I thought the whole world did the same—until I grew up and learned that most people flush their humanure down the toilet. That hurts the planet’s ecology in multiple ways. It depletes farmlands that must be replenished by syntenic fertilizers which are polluting to produce, and it overfertilizes rivers, lakes, and the ocean, causing toxic algae blooms. I wanted humans to know about People’s Own Organic Power aka POOP!


I wrote...

The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste Into Wealth and Health

By Lina Zeldovich,

Book cover of The Other Dark Matter: The Science and Business of Turning Waste Into Wealth and Health

What is my book about?

Grossly ambitious, wildly humorous, and rooted in scientific research, The Other Dark Matter shows how human excrement can be a lifesaving, money-making asset. When recycled correctly, this resource—cheap and widely available—can be converted into a sustainable energy source, act as an organic fertilizer, serve as medicine for antibiotic-resistant infections, reduce toxic algae blooms, and much more. With seven billion of us on this planet, each dishing out a pound of it a day (holy crap!) we excel at replenishing it.

The book implores us to use our innate organic power for the greater good, and for the planet’s sake. And as a health bonus, readers take a deep dive into stool banks and fecal transplants. You will never flush the same way again!

The Art of Innovation

By Tom Kelley, Jonathan Littman,

Book cover of The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm

This book provides a backstage pass into IDEO, one of the top design firms in the world. Combining humor and storytelling with practical advice, it offers insights into their process of innovation, from observation and brainstorming to prototyping and breaking through barriers. Written before design thinking evolved into a major force in education and industry, this book welcomed me into IDEO's world of playful invention.


Who am I?

Trained as an artist, through my work as a college professor I became committed to helping others cultivate and expand their creativity. It has always been heartbreaking to hear friends and acquaintances bemoan their lack of creativity simply because they hadn't developed drawing skills. Creativity is a human characteristic that can be developed in any discipline and with practice and encouragement, is available to anyone. In my reading and my writing, I seek a combination of accessibility and substance. If a book is engaging enough to read at the beach yet substantial enough to provide fuel for thought long afterward, it is a winner!


I wrote...

Creative Inquiry: From Ideation to Implementation

By Mary Stewart,

Book cover of Creative Inquiry: From Ideation to Implementation

What is my book about?

Creative Inquiry introduces students and general readers to the exploratory mindset and hands-on skills necessary for the cultivation and implementation of new ideas. Using active learning, this book combines concise explanations and real-world examples with engaging exercises for readers to complete. 

At the end of major sections, brief self-reflection papers are provided to help readers assess their progress and revise their work. A section on internships connects coursework to careers, while an appendix provides a lively and practical “Top Ten List” of writing strategies for readers who need extra advice. Throughout, the writing style is conversational, yet substantial, and the examples given reflect a wide range of disciplines, from early aeronautics and linguistics to zoology.

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