Corporate innovation is one of the most dynamic, emerging, changing, challenging, rewarding, and confusing roles in the history of business. You must make bets while mitigating risks. You must evaluate that which cannot be measured. You must do the never-been-done-before while providing proof that it will work. And you must do all of this within corporate machines that were built to eliminate inefficiencies and differences. Often you are selling ideas 5 years out to people compensated and obsessed with only the next quarter. It can feel like a lonely island at times. If I could give each of you 5 books to help you on this journey, these are the 5. Some are written by friends of mine and all of them make you feel like you have a friend in the trenches.
Unleashing The Innovators – by Jim Stengel
Jim is no stranger to navigating the corporate spaghetti to make innovation happen. Jim was the Global Marketing Officer (GMO) of Procter & Gamble for 7 years where he oversaw an $8 billion advertising budget and doubled P&G’s sales. He takes readers inside Wells Fargo, IBM, Target, Motorola Solutions, and Toyota to help you navigate the changing landscape, accelerate innovation, and increase revenues.
  • Fish in Unchartered Waters: there is innovation magic in serendipitous collisions.
  • Sometimes You Win, Sometimes You Learn: rethink failures as opportunities to accelerate successes.
Art Thinking – by Amy Whitaker
I remember thinking it was strange that Amy was getting her MBA and her MFA, until I read her book which is an indispensable handbook on how to carve out creative space in a world of budgets and bosses. There are some amazing stories within that will inspire you to marry commerce and creativity. Corporate Innovators must embrace the creativity of new technologies while simultaneously driving towards tangible results for business impact.
  • Portfolio Thinking: utilize cross-subsidies to help you balance the conflicting needs of your jobs. Feed the results machine with one partnership, giving you greater freedom to risk on other partnerships.
  • Navigating Without a Map: if you are trying to do something never-been-done-before, there is no template. The way forward is to have lighthouse questions of “wouldn’t it be cool if” or “is this possible” and use those to create space of belief absent proof of results.
Imagine It Forward – by Beth Comstock
The inside jacket of Beth’s book begins, “The world will never be slower than it is right now.” How’s that for a quote? Beth is the Former Vice Chair and Head of Marketing and Innovation at GE, and she taps into that experience to share her personal journey of navigating the space between the established and the unproven in order to master change in the face of uncertainty.
  • Storycrafting: if there is one shared skill amongst the best corporate innovators we work with, it is the ability to craft stories. To get people to believe in their vision of what might be, and to get people on board with them.
  • Agitated Inquiry: innovation is the result of seeking out tension, not avoiding it. Confrontation can lead to new ways of doing things.
Whiplash – by Joi Ito
Joi is the Director of the MIT Media Lab, and this book is a pragmatic blueprint for how to survive our faster future. The exponential growth of technological change that we are all navigating requires a new operating system based on adaptability and fluidity. There will be winners and losers, and what worked before will no longer suffice.
  • Risk Over Safety: Joi challenges innovators to “deploy” to set forth and try things. To actually weigh the cost of doing something now, versus the cost of thinking about doing something later. He reminds us that the frogs outlive the dinosaurs, so learning from startups is well worth corporate investment.
  • Compasses Over Maps: the new faster future requires us to eliminate rigidity, like rules and maps. Follow your north star and worry less about the rule book.
Smartcuts – by Shane Snow
Shane, an award-winning entrepreneur and journalist, seeks to answer a question every corporate innovator has: how can we accelerate success? The book is motivating and filled with actionable steps to make you a little faster than before you picked it up.
  • The Power of Lateral Thinking: the linear solution will solve the problem predictably and is never going to change the game.
  • Super Connectors: at VentureFuel we call these folks Force Multipliers. This is one of the greatest “hacks” of all time and is the secret to expanding your network and making things happen with unexpected speed.
These books help spark new thinking. They give advice on how to navigate outdated cultures, embrace creativity, and unleash change. None of them is an instruction manual for corporate innovation. I wish there was one of those. I have often thought about writing it. But the truth is, by the time it was published, it would be outdated. Things are just moving too quickly. Yet, it will never be slower than it is today. The flexible and elastic thinking advised by these authors will help you thrive amidst the chaos to drive impactful change.
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