10 best books to read if you work in innovation

Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses “No, But” Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration–Lessons from The Second City

Despite all the planning, processes, controls and governance anyone who has spent time working in or running a business knows that a great deal of time and energy goes into dealing with the unexpected, the curve balls and gray zones that typify corporate life. In ‘Yes, And’ the executives from Second City (the world’s premier school of comedy) introduce a whole new skill set for innovation- using the seven principles of improvisation to unlock the creative forces of individuals and make it easier to test creative ideas and launch them in marketplace.

Apply these seven elements of improvisation to your work and you’ll never look back:

  1. ‘Yes, And’, by which you give every idea a chance to be acted on
  2. Ensemble, reconciling the needs of individuals with those of the broader team
  3. Co-creation, which highlights the importance of dialogue in creating new products, processes, and relationships
  4. Authenticity, or being unafraid to speak truth to power, challenge convention, and break the rules
  5. Failure, teaching us that not only is it okay to fail, but we should always include it as part of our process
  6. Follow the follower, which gives any member of the group the chance to assume a leadership role
  7. Listening, in which you learn to stay in the moment, and know the difference between listening to understand and listening merely to respond

Reference: Yorton, T & Leonard, K. (2015). Yes, And. Harper Business.

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Make it Stick by Heath & Heath (2007)

Ever asked yourself why some ideas succeed and others fail? In ‘Make it Stick’, two brothers with a background in education explain that an idea that sticks is one that is understood, it’s remembered, and it changes something. Sticky ideas of all kinds—ranging from urban legends to JFK’s “Man on the Moon” speech—have six traits in common.  By unpicking a range of provocative stories they teach you that if you make use of these traits in your communication, you too can make your ideas stickier:

Simple- Simplicity isn’t about dumbing down, it’s about prioritizing. What’s the core of your message? Can you communicate it with an analogy or high-concept pitch?

Unexpected- To get attention, violate a schema. To hold attention, use curiosity gaps. (What are Saturn’s rings made of?) Before your message can stick, your audience has to want it.

Concrete-To be concrete, use sensory language. (Think Aesop’s fables.) Paint a mental picture. (“A man on the moon…”) Remember the Velcro theory of memory—try to hook into multiple types of memory.

Credible- Ideas can get credibility from outside (authorities or anti-authorities) or from within, using human-scale statistics or vivid details. Let people “try before they buy.”

Emotional- People care about people, not numbers. Don’t forget the WIIFY (What’s In It For You). But identity appeals can often trump self-interest.

Stories- Drive action through simulation (what to do) and inspiration (the motivation to do it). Help people see how an existing problem might change.

Reference: Heath, D & Heath C (2007). Make it Stick. Random House Publishing Group.

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Cultural Dimensions by Geert Hofstede (2009)

Whether it’s for business, as a traveller, or trying to master a new language, we come across different countries and cultures more than ever before. Though we share similarities with other cultures, we also have a lot of differences, and these can sometimes lead to misunderstandings which in turn can lead  to conflict which could be devastating for a workshop leaders reputation. As underlined by Geert Hofstede, the five-dimensions-model outlines the differences in cultural background. Here is a list of these principles and what they mean:

  1. Power Distance – The Power Distance dimension refers to the different ways of coping with inequalities within cultures, for example, some are rich whereas others are poor. The difference between those cultures with a high PDI (power distance index) and a low PDI is that those cultures which score lowly “the hierarchy is seen as a construct, not as something God-given or determined by fate” and this leads to little corruption and a more evenly distributed income. Whereas those with a high PDI inequality between people is expected and sometimes even desired, for example teachers are expected to know everything and the elderly are respected.
  2. Individualism vs collectivism – This is the degree to which individuals of a society are integrated into groups. This idea seeks to understand whether in certain cultures believe ‘every man for himself’ or if they define themselves through their group actions. A low individuality index (IDV) consider important moral factors to be close knit families, and loyalty and because of this preserving harmony is a top priority. Whereas high IDV means that it is everyone for themselves, and speaking your mind is healthy.
  3. Masculinity vs femininity – From this study Geert observed that feminine countries are ‘modest and caring’, women can work, hold political office, decide how many children they want to have and the lines between gender roles are blurred in general. The opposite is observed for masculine countries.
  4. Uncertainty avoidance – This reflects a societies tolerance for ambiguity, such a believing in urban legends etc. A higher uncertainty avoidance index (UAI) is tied to both an emotional and health wise decline as well as an increase in rules and laws.
  5. Long term vs short term orientation – Persistence and frugality are values that are aligned with future success and feature mainly in cultures with a long term orientation. Whereas a respect for tradition, ‘keeping face’ and fulfilling societal duties are more connected to short term orientation.Countries that scored in long term where usually the East Asian nations such as China, Taiwan, Japan and Vietnam. Whereas short term orientation was more focused in English speaking countries, Nigeria, the Czech Republic and Pakistan.

These five-dimensions are good to keep in mind when you are creating a workshop for a company based abroad as it will help you to come to grips with not only how you can develop the workshop to suits the culture’s needs, but also why.

Reference: Anja Dellner (2009). Cultural Dimensions: The Five-Dimensions-Model according to Geert Hofstede. Grin Publishing.

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The Geography of thought by Richard E. Nisbett (2004)

The Geography of Thought is a particularly interesting read. The author, Richard E. Nisbett who is an eminent Psychologist wrote this book on cultural psychology, predominantly with a focus on ‘how Asians and Westerners think differently and why’ in order to contend that human cognition isn’t the same everywhere, and this is important to remember when conducting workshops in Asian so you can be sure to make the most of your client’s time.

Though Nisbett is primarily a psychologist, he uses philosophical approaches to argue that ‘people actually think – and even see – the world differently’ due to differing politics, ecologies, morals and social structures, which can be explained by looking back to where these social structures came from, and why they were so important.

One chapter that is useful in the context of what Workshop Cookbook does is chapter eight ‘And if the nature of thought is not everywhere the same’ as it notes some of the key differences between Western and Asian societies as well as strives to answer whether the findings from countless psychological studies actually relate to real-world examples. For example, in one study it was found that when confronted with two apparently contradictory propositions, Americans tended to polarise their beliefs whereas the Chinese moved toward equal acceptance of the two propositions. Through real-world exploration of these findings, Nisbett found that they did indeed correlate with the conclusions drawn from the studies, so next time you are referring to a cultural psychological study in a workshop, or if you need some help on understanding a different culture you’ll be visiting, the research you gather will more than likely be accurate (unless you’re using Wikipedia – which isn’t always the most trusted source!)

Overall this book achieves its purpose in outlining the key differences in cultures and exploring why things are the way they are, in a way that can be understood by Psychology professionals and those with just an interest in understanding the world we live in and the people we share it with. The findings from this  book can be applied whether you’re looking to expand your skills in Workshop leading, or if you’re looking for inspiration for your next session abroad!

Reference: Richard E. Nisbett (2004). Geography of thought: How Asians and Westerners think differently… and why. Simon & Schuster Inc.

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Agile Innovation: How to Scrum Ideation by Langdon Morris, Moses Ma and Po Chi Wu (2014)

Praised globally by business leaders, ‘Agile Innovation’ offers a new approach to innovation – by blending key aspects of the Agile development process with the tenets of classical innovation. The authors argue the necessity for both agility and innovation, and show how this new approach to innovation is an extension and natural evolution of the manifesto for Agile software development.

As you may know, effective innovation doesn’t just happen – it is achieved by careful design. Morris, Ma, and Wu focus on three critical drivers of innovation success:

  1. Accelerating the overall process by shifting to self-organising teams.
  2. Reducing the inherent risks by empowering teams to intelligently self-optimize to enable scaling the Agile process to transform your entire organisation.
  3. To propose that it is possible for these team to self-actualize.

By reading this book you will gain key insights into understanding how to implement the many ways that innovation efforts can be accelerated to achieve even greater competitive advantage. Learn to create a culture of innovation, greater engagement, and a rich collaboration throughout your organisation, and to integrate key agility principles into your strategic planning decisions for sustained improvement as well as much more.

Reference: Morris, Ma and Wu (2014). Agile Innovation: How to scrum ideation. Wiley.

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Innovation as Usual: How to Help Your People Bring Great Ideas to Life by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg (2013) 

Innovation can often be overlooked when it comes to noticing key skills in any company, though innovation experts Miller and Wedell-Wedellsborg suggest that leaders at all levels should become “innovation architects” and create an environment where it is ‘innovation as usual’ as opposie.

The key learning from this book is that leaders should guide their people in the ‘5+1 keystone behaviours or innovation: focus, connect, tweak, select, stealthstorm (and the +1) persist:

•  Focus beats freedom: Direct people to look only for ideas that matter to the business
•  Insight comes from the outside: Urge people to connect to new worlds
•  First ideas are flawed: Challenge people to tweak and reframe their initial ideas
•  Most ideas are bad ideas: Guide people to select the best ideas and discard the rest
•  Stealthstorming rules: Help people navigate the politics of innovation
•  Creativity is a choice: Motivate everyone to persist in the five keystone behaviours

The authors research comes from a wide range of trusted companies such as Pfizer, Index Ventures, Lonza, Go Travel, Prehype, DSM, and others.

Reference: Miller and Wedell-Wedellsborg (2013). Innovation as Usual: How to Help Your People Bring Great Ideas to Life. Harvard Business Review Press.

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Inside the box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results by Drew Boyd (2014)

The usual saying for when you are trying to develop new and innovative idea is to ‘think outside of the box’ inside the box coverthough Drew Boyd suggests that although this does sometimes work, more often than not it is a problem-specific solution that does nothing to engender creative thinking more generally. In this book, Boyd seeks to demonstrate Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT), which systemizes creativity as part of the corporate culture.

SIT comprises of the following five techniques for building on your creativity:

  1. Subtraction: Innovative products and services often have something removed, usually something previously thought to be essential.
  2. Task Unification: This technique brings tasks together, unifying them within one component of an innovation, usually a component that was previously thought to be unrelated to that task.
  3. Multiplication: Innovative products and services often contain a component that’s been copied but changed in a way that might seem unnecessary or redundant.
  4. Division: Some products and services emerge with a component divided out and placed in a new location or appearing at a different time.
  5. Attribute Dependency: Two unrelated product attributes can be correlated with each other. As one attribute changes, another changes.

SIT is a thinking method which was originally developed in the mid-1990’s in Israel, and has now become a well known tool for creativity and innovation, which techniques and principles have instilled creative thinking into such companies as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and other industry leaders.

References: Boyd (2014). Inside the box: A Proven System of Creativity for Breakthrough Results. Simon & Schuster

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Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire by Bruce Nussbaum (2013)

Nussbaum demonstrates the importance of ‘connecting the dots’ and how it is essential to creativity, by blending together insights from varying industries, disciplines and historical eras to reveal the “five competencies of creative intelligence”:

  • Knowledge Mining: Those who are routinely creative are skilled at connecting information from various sources in new and surprising ways. Creative entrepreneurs, thinkers and artists use their own experiences and aspirations as a starting point for dreaming up new things. When their own experience is insufficient, they go straight to the source and partner with people who are more embedded in a culture than they are.
  • Framing: Understanding your frame of reference — your way of seeing the world as it compares with other people’s—is critical, no matter your aspirations or industry. People who understand framing techniques are better able to shift their perspectives depending on the situation, environment or community they’re interacting with.
  • Playing: We associate play with children, but Navy Seals, scientists and engineers all ‘play’ at discovering solutions to challenges. By adopting a playful mindset, we’re more willing to take risks, explore possibilities and learn to navigate uncertainty, without the paralyzing stigma of failure.
  • Making: After decades of rewarding mental agility — trading on Wall Street, consulting, strategy and branding — we are experiencing a ‘maker’s renaissance’. People want to make things again, and thanks to a whole host of new technologies and the democratization of the tools of creativity, we’re doing it.
  • Pivoting: Traditional notions of creativity separate the process of coming up with new ideas from the actual making of new things; but truly creative people don’t stop at the idea: they quickly make the pivot into creation.

References: Nussbaum (2013). Creative Intelligence: Harnessing the Power to Create, Connect, and Inspire. Harper Collins. 

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The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters (2012)

Let’s say you want to run a successful business, lead a workshop team, or even just make some headway on chimp paradox covera personal project; naturally you need the ability to make informed, logical decisions while remaining plugged in to your instincts and intuitions. If you ever felt like you were being internally pulled in different directions (who hasn’t?), or that your emotions were clouding your objective judgment, then ‘The Chimp Paradox’ might just shed some light on how your brain is ticking and help to redress that balance.

‘The Chimp Paradox’ is sold as a “mind management programme for confidence, success and happiness”, but in a nutshell it presents you with two distinct personalities within yourself: ‘The Chimp’ and ‘The Human’, and both have different agendas…

The primitive ‘Chimp’ prioritises survival and lives by the laws of the jungle. With strong, instinctual drives like food, territory, power, sex and ego, it’s a highly reactive and emotional thinker. Heard of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response? That’s the Chimp at work. This may be useful when faced with an intruder or venomous snake… but not so much when it’s a difficult boss.

On the other side of the fence, the logical ‘Human’ prioritises truth and understanding. It’s driven by facts, purpose, conscience and compassion (that is assuming you aren’t a psychopath of course) and is the part of you that holds the reins of self-control. The Chimp may demand immediate gratification, but the Human can choose whether or not to ignore the impulse.

As you might imagine, these two seemingly opposing personalities – and their agendas – are often in conflict with one other. Because the stronger Chimp is always the one that reacts first, Prof Steve Peters has formulated an arsenal of useful tools and tricks to help you “manage your Chimp”, from exercising it to distracting it with a banana (yes, really!) and ensure that your Chimp and Human coexist as harmoniously as they can.

I must add that ‘The Chimp’ and ‘The Human’ are only the core elements; once you delve in deeper you are also introduced to the likes of ‘The Computer’, ‘Gremlins’, ‘Goblins’ and ‘The Stone of Life’ (among others), so with a fair amount to wrap your head around it’s a programme that does take some commitment.

That said, I would certainly recommend reading ‘The Chimp Paradox’ and if you’re looking to hone your ability in focussed decision-making or simply keep impulses from overruling your logic – both crucial in business – you may well want to continue applying Peters’ methods long after you’ve closed the book. If it can help Olympic athletes, it can certainly help you too.

References: Professor Steve Peters (2012). The Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme to Help You Achieve Success, Confidence and Happiness. Random House.

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Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human Mind by Nancy Kline (2002)

Time to Think is one of those books that forces you to consider making  the time to think – for most of us this is hard enough at the best of times. In fact the irony is trying to find the time to read a book called Time to Think. But if you do take the time, the reward is immense. This is one of those books that really challenges your concept of thinking. For me the most important lesson I learned from this book is allowing others time to think. The author writes that effective listening is the essential tool of good management, and throughout this book, Kline goes into detail on how we can achieve this and presents a step-by-step guide on how you as a manager can do this.

We live in a society where an immediate response within a conversation is expected and we often find ourselves talking over each other or even pre-empting what the other is trying to say. In fact I caught myself recently responding too quickly so I stopped and let my colleague continue talking. In fact when you listen and allow the other… time to think without responding prematurely – something interesting happens. You find yourself giving others a non verbal cue of respect by offering them the permission and time to think and thus you find yourself  listening to truly ignite the human mind!

References: Nancy Kline (2002). Time to Think: Listening to Ignite the Human MindWard Lock.

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