Thoughts on design, strategy, and innovation.

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Best Books on Strategy & Innovation: Part 3

This is the third and final post on the best books on strategy and innovation. Consider the list taken together as a “101” set of thought leadership for those passionate about the topics, as a gift list for that special strategist in your life, or the perfect set to make good on that New Year’s resolution to “learn more about strategy and innovation”.

If you haven’t read the first post on the “Classics of Strategy” or the second on “Innovation & Business Modeling”, it’s worth giving both a quick review. This final part, Other Books of Note, is what it sounds like: a grab bag of other works I’ve found useful that any strategist worth their salt should consider reading. Absolutely essential books are noted as *Must Read*.

Part# 3: Other Books of Note
I’ve arranged these works in order of their original date of authorship.

*Must Read* The Brand Gap by Marty Neumeier, 2003
The Brand Gap is a key read for those of you who aren’t comfortable talking about “brand” and even better if you still believe the “brand” is the driving force in strategy and innovation. Short answer: it’s not. Longer answer, read Marty’s brief but also excellent book illustrating the critical gap between what customers believe and what companies communicate.

*Must Read* Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath, 2007
While one part of strategy is coming to the right “answer”, another part is being able to effectively communicate it. Made to Stick is a fun read featuring the useful “SUCCESS” framework for making sure the ideas you generate are capable of really having legs with people. Feel like you’ve got a strategic mind but aren’t successful in pitching those strategic ideas? This book is for you.

Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, 2008
That people aren’t all completely rational in their decision-making is well-known to social scientists but mainstream economists and (rationalist) strategists didn’t pick up this fact until relatively recently. Predictably Irrational is the book I would start with to begin to understand why we are built to overpay, underestimate, procrastinate, and overvalue the things we buy. Seems like pretty relevant thinking to know if you’re someone focused on creating new offerings.

*Must Read* The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures by Dan Roam, 2008
Similar to the Heath brothers’ work Make it Stick , this book’s focus ends up being more on the communication of strategy than its creation. That said, visual thinking and leveraging simple illustrative and diagrammatic techniques that Roam introduces does drive effective problem solving. Talking or writing about a potential new future is one level of tangibility in new offering development. Creating sketches or pictures of the same is more concrete and more effective, especially when collaborating across disciplines. Roam offers up a simple language which anyone, even those who believe they can’t draw, can use to illustrate.

Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, 2009
I thought a long time about what books to include related to leadership and motivation. With classic thinking on the topic covered with the earlier Drucker recommendation, I decided the book that most captured leadership thinking of the moment is Drive. Pink argues compellingly that intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic remuneration is the path to satisfied employees and successful companies. I would argue this is especially so in offering development driven organizations. Let’s face it, our best employees and colleagues don’t come to work because they are getting paid. They have many options in this regard. They choose to work with a given organization because of higher order reasons to believe and self-worth. It’s easy to critique Drive as a “black and white” view of the world. Also, a greater percentage of the book could delve into how its key ideas could be used in the world outside of consulting or academia. Criticism aside, he does draw the big picture correctly and we would be fools to ignore him.

This is Service Design Thinking by Marc Stickdorn & Jakob Schneider, 2011
Living in Europe, it’s clear the specific notion of “Service Design” is a lot more prevalent than in the US. Over here, we have a slew of academic programs created to teach it and a northern European design legacy focused on extending design to a larger stakeholder set, the wider social fabric, which predates it. That said, similar thinking (holistic and cross-channel) and tool sets (service blueprints, journeys, etc.) have been used and taught extensively in the US under the names UX, experience design or experience strategy. This is Service Design Thinking is a nice overview of the field and worth reading as “strategy” becomes more tightly linked to offerings and offerings become more service-based.

Fixing the Game: Bubbles, Crashes, and What Capitalism Can Learn from the NFL by Roger Martin1, 2011
It was hard to justify listing two books from any author on a “best of” list but Rotman School of Business Dean, Roger Martin, has authored a work that is so essential to our modern times that it is also hard to ignore. Fixing the Game outlines the issues in modern day US capitalism in a salient and provocative manner. He not only asks the right questions about why our system is broken but then provides compelling and concrete answers for how to fix it. Core to society generating the most value, the best strategies and the greatest level of innovation is a corporate and economic system which enables fairness and competition. If our leaders listen to Martin, we’ll all be better for it.

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, 2011
As frustrating as Isaacson’s sloppy writing is at times, it’s hard to ignore reading the authorized biography of perhaps the greatest innovator of our era. Steve Jobs’ life is filled with stories about bringing new solutions into the world: mostly successes, but also failures. I come away from the book liking Jobs less but also respecting him more. My biggest disappointment in the book is that it doesn’t tell us more about how Jobs worked to facilitate some of the greatest innovations of the last 30 years. Given the time Isaacson spent with him, we would all hope the book had a bit more to share about the process Steve went through to produce such consistently revolutionary new things.

As I said in part one and two of this post, this list could have been edited down or, more easily, greatly expanded. Contact me via twitter to make other suggestions and I’ll include those in an update to this post.

1 Disclaimer: Roger Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Business, wrote the foreword for my book, Naked Innovation. That doesn’t make him any less smart. You should read his books.


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