Vacations can be an ideal time to put a dent in the reading backlog. Bill Gates made a tradition of his “think weeks,” reading *vacations* during which he’d famously speed read through the densest of tomes with his inimitably serious-minded purpose.
Needless to say, we’re not all Bill Gates.
My vacation selections aren’t exactly puffy-covered supermarket potboilers, but I’ll admit that I rarely reach for many of Gates’ more obscure favorites (although I do find his book reviews worthwhile reading in their own right.)
Don’t let its compact size—or snarky title—fool you. It’s a worthwhile read.
Unlike so many other books in this particular genre, it doesn’t disguise otherwise straightforward concepts with overwrought explanation. Shapiro gets straight to the point with 40 often counterintuitive tips on how to strengthen your innovation muscles, served up with respect for your time and intelligence. Here are some of my favorites:
Asking for Ideas is a Bad Idea (18)—crowdsourcing is often sold as a veritable goldmine if you can figure out how to harvest the collective intelligence of the masses. But Shapiro concludes what I’ve said before: sometimes the wisdom of crowds is pretty darn conventional. While crowdsourcing initiatives can be worthwhile for the publicity they generate, the ideas are often another story altogether.
Crowds are Better at Eliminating Duds Than at Picking Winners (62)—continuing on a similar thread, Shapiro says that the wisdom of crowds is in hole-poking, not winner-picking. He suggests allowing experts to generate ideas and using crowds to help separate the wheat from the chaff by rooting out the duds.
Best Practices Are (Sometimes) Stupid (90)—as a saltwater-obsessed youth, I learned that you can’t win a sailboat race by following the fleet. Shapiro suggests that the same logic applies to business: best practices are little more than someone else’s strategy. However, he’s quick to point out that best practices are indeed useful in tactical, non-differentiating areas—and sometimes strategically, but only when they’re borrowed from another industry. (It’s a parenthetical caveat he’s wise to both include within the book’s pages and to exclude from its title.)
Simplification Is the Best Innovation (93)—Under Steve Jobs’ leadership, Apple popularized the notion of design thinking, a philosophy of thoughtful product and experience design as the basis for competitive advantage. In the words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Shapiro reminds us that “perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” The success of Apple and other design-centered brands is strong evidence that consumers agree that the best innovation is often addition by subtraction.
Someone Else Has Already Solved Your Problem (160)—I like to think of the shortcut to creativity as the application of known ideas to a new context. Similarly, Shapiro suggests looking outside of your industry to find novel solutions that may be ordinary in their original use, but nothing short of genius in their second life. He offers the example of whitening toothpaste, which took inspiration from laundry detergent. The lesson is learning to observe closely—and learning to reframe the problem so you can see beyond your own purview.
I spoke with Steve several months ago as part of the research I was conducting on the concept of innovation pipelines as a drill-down on the innovation theme first introduced in Gartner’s Marketing Maturity Model (subscription required for both reports).
My thesis was that product and service advantages have become somewhat porous and ephemeral, vulnerable to the restless, relentless ambition of global competition rising from all quarters. I suggested that, today, the only sustainable advantage is a continuous series of temporary advantages strung together with a replenishing pipeline of ideas—ideas that are differentiated, commercially viable and that actually make it out of the lab and into the market.
How you achieve this is easier said than done and Shapiro’s book may not be final word on the topic, but it’s excellent inspiration for those seeking to instigate change to tired products and services, moribund business models and outmoded ways of thinking.