I just finished Dr. Max McKeown’s “The Innovator’s Book” — a short, energetic treatise on, as he puts it, “rules for rebels, mavericks and innovators.” Dr. Max’s book isn’t a how-to, nor is it a playbook people can implement into organizations. Rather it is a collection of reminders for change makers who typically face long odds, waves of resistance and general inertia in creating innovative solutions. The truth is that for those who dedicate their work to making significant positive changes there are never enough reminders or inspirations.
In fact, I liked it so much that it would be great if Dr. Max could create a companion calendar or even a set of design cards out of the book, a new rule, reminder or inspiration to look at every week, or even during client work. While little of the content is “new” Dr. Max writes in a clear and easy style to provide needed innovation sparks.
The book itself has three sections describing the needs of any innovation: making new ideas useful, building a bigger brain, and winning with new ideas. The first section deals with what Dr. Max calls “practical creativity,” that is coming up with that significant positive change. The second section deals with building the collective tribe you need to make that idea bigger and better by expanding your brain trust. The third section deals with making sure your idea gains acceptance and sustainability by spreading through the right networks to reach the right people.
For example, in section one he encourages innovators to “make a mess” by taking things apart, building prototypes or by finding out how something works so you can make it better. Paul Budnitz, for example, created his ultra-high end Budnitz bikes by hanging out in bike shops in Boulder, CO, asking lots of stupid questions so he could create and design his titanium $5000 bikes.
In section two Dr. Max talks about the structures needed for your bigger brain team. And his suggestion is “all of the above” when it comes to both organizational and physical structures. I think this is something that will melt the brains of many HR people and even CEOs who believe you have to have one defined structure. The reality is that the many individuals needed for innovation work have various needs depending on where they are in the process and what they have to work on. Creating that flexibility is the culture.
In section three, I found a couple of very compelling ideas, such as the question “How would you kill your own idea?” But the best, and most challenging I think, is the need to learn the “values, symbols, jargon, jokes, heroes and villains” of the groups you need to convince to change, both the early adopters as well as those most resistant to change. Whew, immersing yourself in the culture of the resistance might be the hardest piece of work for innovators and also the most necessary.
I’m going to try to share, inspire and challenge my own tribe with a page out of Dr. Max’s book every week and see what kind of reaction I get. I’ll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, this was a very fun and direct book about innovation. Definitely worth a read.