Suggested Reading: The Myths of Innovation

Scott Berkun — The Myths of Innovation — O’Reilly, 2007, 178 pp. ISBN 978-0-596-52705-1

(buy at Amazon.com)

(buy at Amazon.com)

In this book, Berkun debunks the myths surrounding the new, the innovation, the invention that will change the world, surrounding the inventor, lonely and strange, superman or genius. In ten chapters, he systematically demolishes a series of myths, starting by the myth of epiphany, that is, how an innovation is “revealed” to its inventor. He explains how and why such epiphanies do not exist, and, if they exist, how they cannot be anything but the final step of long, tedious work.

He also explain why History is so bad at crediting people with inventions, and why it could’nt really be otherwise. Even the myth of the lonely, recluse, and weird inventor is demolished as he shows that even the most recluse inventor is still connected to everyone else, and, especially, to all the innovations that, taken incrementally, enable his own invention; making it suddenly surprising only out of context; probably inevitable in perspective.

Finally, he discusses how and why the better ideas do not always succeed at imposing themselves and how the long terms effects of a given invention cannot possibly be foreseen—surely the Wright brothers could not have guessed how their dangerous contraption of a plane would, eventually, change the face of transportation forever.

The book is completed by a copious bibliography that complement the already numerous footnotes.

The dirty little secret—the fact often denied—is that unlike the mythical epiphany, real creation is sloppy. Discovery is messy; exploration is dangerous. No one knows what he’s going to get when he’s being creative. Filmmakers, painters, inventors, and entrepreneurs describe their work as a seach: they explore the unknown hoping to find new things worth bringing to the world. And just like other kinds of explorers, the search for ideas demands risk: much of what’s found won’t be satisfactory. Therefore, creative work cannot fit neatly in plans, budgets, and schedules. Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and Captain Kirk were all sent on missions into the unknown with clear understanding that they might not return with anything, or even return at all.

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