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Innovation Strategy

15 Essential Books on Innovation

Featured image: 15 Essential Books on Innovation

If you are anything like us, you love reading about innovation.

Whether it’s Peter F. Drucker exploring innovation as a discipline, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne uncovering new approaches to creating markets, or Scott Berkun exploding some common innovation myths, there are so many inspiring and informative books out there.  

In this article, we’re coming to the rescue with a curated reading list of our favorite 15 innovation texts, broken down into five core topics:

Innovation and personal development books

  • 1. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
  • 2. The Innovator’s DNA
  • 3. Mapping Innovation

Innovation strategy books

  • 4. The Innovator’s Dilemma
  • 5. Blue Ocean Strategy
  • 6. Blue Ocean Shift

Innovation management books

  • 7. Reinventing Organizations
  • 8. Creative Construction
  • 9. Business Model Generation

Innovation implementation books

  • 10. Running Lean
  • 11. Scaling Lean
  • 12. Value Proposition Design

Other innovation books

  • 13. The Myths of Innovation
  • 14. Dual Transformation
  • 15. Cascades

Innovation and personal development books

One of the most fundamental categories of innovation literature focuses on developing personal innovation skills. Here, we’ve got three excellent books providing advice and information for anyone wishing to unlock their inner creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.


1. Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Peter F. Drucker

Considered the father of modern management thinking, Peter F. Drucker’s seminal text Innovation and Entrepreneurship is a required reading for pretty much anyone in business.

This book was one of the first to analyze innovation and entrepreneurship as purposeful disciplines capable of being studied like any other systems. While now over three decades old, Drucker’s insights remain as relevant today as they were in the eighties.

In this text, Drucker outlines ideas and concepts that are now so ingrained in our thinking about innovation and entrepreneurship that they seem obvious.

His central thesis is that rather than being an innate talent or natural ability, the capacity for innovation can be studied, learned, and improved. It is this capacity for innovation than makes successful entrepreneurs.

As Drucker himself writes, “Entrepreneurship is behavior rather than personality trait. And its foundation lies in concept and theory rather than in intuition.”

Innovation and Entrepreneurship is an excellent place to start when it comes to understanding the discipline of innovation, and the role of creativity as the central tool of entrepreneurship.


2. The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, Jeffrey H. Dyer, Hal B. Gregersen, Clayton M. Christensen

A joint effort from three accomplished business authors, including bestselling writer Clayton Christensen (more on his book The Innovator’s Dilemma below), The Innovator’s DNA is a thorough exploration of the core competencies at the heart of disruptive innovation.

This book starts by analyzing the skills and behaviors of the world’s top innovators, including leaders at tech titans like Apple and Google. The authors outline five tendencies setting these entrepreneurs apart: associating, questioning, observing, networking, and experimenting.

Packed with practical observations and case studies, The Innovator’s DNA is one of the most helpful books on the subject of innovation in business. There are plenty of valuable lessons here for anyone wishing to leverage promising ideas into a competitive business edge.

This book also wins points for its comprehensive innovation self-assessment, which lets readers understand their specific needs and get maximum value from the text.


3. Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating a Disruptive Age, Greg Satell

At first glance, this may not seem like a personal development book, but trust us: there are plenty of lessons and observations here for those looking for ways to be more creative and innovative in business.

Gatell’s exploration of the four models of innovation - basic research, breakthrough innovation, sustaining innovation, and disruptive innovation - offers a flexible and informative overview of the different types of creative entrepreneurship.

Even better, the book’s focus on telling the stories of the greatest inventions of the past century helps ground the advice in reality, letting the reader understand the innovation process in practical and relatable terms.

We’ll be taking a look at Gatell’s great follow-up Cascades below, so be sure to check that one out too.

Innovation strategy books

Beyond developing your personal capacity for creative thinking and entrepreneurialism, another critical part of innovation literature relates to strategy.

Put simply, an innovation strategy is a plan guiding company investments in innovation, and articulating core principles to channel creative commercial activities. Innovation strategy literature takes a close look at how companies can and should develop such strategies.

In today’s environment, every business needs an innovation strategy. If you want to know how exactly you can get started here, you’d best get reading!


4. The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business, Clayton M. Christensen

A lot of books contain bold promises, but this bestselling text actually does what it says on the cover: change the way you do business.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen takes a hard look at one of the trickiest problems in business: the tendency for established businesses to spend money enhancing the performance and efficiency of existing products rather than anticipating major disruptive events.

In fact, this book popularized the theory of sustaining vs. disruptive technologies. Here, Christensen points out that unless established businesses can use innovation to drive both kinds of innovation, they risk losing their competitive edge.

A favorite of innovation luminaries from Steve Jobs to Peter Thiel, The Innovator’s Dilemma contains a vast trove of wisdom concerning the strategy and values driving company investments in innovation.

Despite having being written before the dotcom bubble of the late 90s, Christensen’s approach to innovation strategy applies just as much to the modern tech environment as it did to the IBM disk wars of the 80s and 90s.

Take a look at this excellent book, and see what all the fuss is about.


5. Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant, W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

Any discussion of smash-hit innovation strategy bestsellers would be incomplete without Blue Ocean Strategy. This incredibly influential book by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne completely changed the way people think about innovation and market creation.

Released in 2005, Blue Ocean Strategy examines over 150 strategic commercial decisions, and explores the way in which competition for growth influences innovation.  

Challenging the traditional belief that cut-throat competition leads to advances in technology, this book argues instead that lasting commercial success comes not from dueling with competitors, but from discovering “blue oceans” - uncontested market spaces ripe for growth.

As the book shows, identifying new areas for potential growth (also known as market adjacencies) can be more profitable and less costly for businesses, and can lead to greater innovations than traditional head-to-head competition.

Blue Ocean Strategy is worth getting your hands on for the case studies alone. For example, Kim and Mauborgne take a fascinating look at Canon’s shrewd decision to market home copiers and printers to consumers, moving sideways into an uncontested market.


6. Blue Ocean Shift: Beyond Competing - Proven Steps to Inspire Confidence and Seize New Growth, W. Chan Kim & Renée Mauborgne

A much-needed follow-up to the seminal text Blue Ocean Strategy, Blue Ocean Shift draws on a decade of the authors’ fresh thinking to give readers even more great advice and guidance on innovation strategy and growth tactics.

In Blue Ocean Shift, Kim and Mauborgne focus more closely on practical steps, offering a detailed guide for businesses wishing to shift away from traditional competition-based thinking and focus on finding untapped markets for innovation.

A combined study of human psychology and informative commercial case studies, this book provides readers with a thorough examination of the value of non-disruptive innovation over disruptive innovation.

Blue Ocean Shift is an indispensable resource for any business developing an innovation strategy, or for any entrepreneur wanting to understand the full range of market-changing innovations out there.

Innovation management books

Beyond developing a strategy to guide innovation investments, businesses also need to adopt a sound approach to innovation management. After all, if a business’s leadership can’t attract innovators and keep them engaged and motivated, they won’t last long.

Here, we’ve got some great books to help readers break down innovative concepts from strategic high-level considerations to practical day-to-day management advice.


7. Reinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness, Frederic Laloux

The title may sound a little lofty, but trust us: this advice within this book is rock solid.

In Reinventing Organizations, Frederic Laloux demonstrates the importance of the values of authenticity, community, and shared purpose to the innovation process. Laloux ties these values to a modern shift in human consciousness valuing meaning within systems of labor.

Helpfully, Reinventing Organizations offers practical tips and guidance to go along with these wide-ranging theories. Laloux draws from a depth of inspiring stories and case studies to show how businesses can better manage their innovative and creative processes.

If you’re looking for ways to better manage your creative talent, retain skilled people, and channel your organization’s collective capacity for innovation, this text is a crucial read.

Laloux’s examinations of the limitations of hierarchy in business are particularly helpful. As he writes, “When trust is extended, it breeds responsibility in return. Emulation and peer pressure regulate the system better than hierarchy ever could.”


8. Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation, Gary P. Pisano

Plenty of books out there offer solutions for growing startups looking to get off the ground. Fewer books, on the other hand, focus on the specific challenge of larger established companies sustaining the same rate of innovation over time.

In Creative Construction, Gary P. Pisano leaps straight into this complex question. Drawing from three decades’ worth of research, Pisano offers some unique factors that set established companies apart when it comes to innovation.

Bigger companies, Pisano argues, have more complex relationships with shareholders and customers, and this complicates their reliance on innovation and creativity. With larger enterprises, there’s more on the line, and this demands a different management approach.

Fortunately, Creative Construction offers some convincing solutions to these thorny questions, including advocating a set of innovation management practices designed specifically for established businesses.

If you’re working in a larger, established business, or are planning on turning your startup into one, then Creative Construction offers great innovation management advice.


9. Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers, Alexander Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Published in 2010, Business Model Generation is less of an innovation text, and more of an exhaustive compendium of practical management advice and solutions.

Co-created by almost 500 individual strategy practitioners (just let that number sink in for a second!), Business Model Generation offers innovation guidance and techniques informed by an incredible depth of research and analysis.

In this book, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur focus on real-world applicability above everything else, providing everything you need to manage innovation and commercial creativity throughout all layers of your business.

Whether you’re auditing your current innovation management systems, or are designing systems to nurture creativity in an emerging startup, there are countless valuable tips to be found in Business Model Generation.

Even more helpfully, the authors have also joined forces for a closer look at innovation implementation, publishing Value Proposition Design (see below).

Innovation implementation books

Successfully implementing new ideas is one of the most challenging aspects of innovation in business. Unfortunately, techniques for innovation implementation is an area that is often overlooked in favor of strategy and management techniques.

However, as these next three books show, there are plenty of helpful ideas out there to guide businesses and entrepreneurs as they take their ideas from the first sparks of imagination through to market-changing products.


10. Running Lean: Iterate from Plan A to a Plan That Works, Ash Maurya

Founder of continuous improvement platform LEANSTACK, Ash Maurya is something of a guru when it comes to innovation implementation.

In his fantastic book Running Lean, Maurya takes a hard look at the question of why so many products fail in modern business - even when the product pitch sounds promising. His answer? Businesses need a thorough, systematic process for vetting product ideas at their early stages.

Drawing from his experience in the tech sector and elsewhere, Maurya takes readers through a frank and detailed strategy for developing products to fit the market. This includes a step-by-step guide from problem definition through to solution refinement and product design.

For businesses and entrepreneurs looking for ways to improve their ability to implement promising innovations, Running Lean is a must-have. Fortunately for us, Maurya wasn’t done with just one great book...


11. Scaling Lean: Mastering the Key Metrics for Startup Growth, Ash Maurya

Another example of a follow-up building on the success of its predecessor, Scaling Lean continues Ash Maurya’s tour through innovation implementation techniques.

Focusing on metrics to measure and assess a business’s ability to implement valuable innovations, Scaling Lean is packed with valuable advice and insights for growing startups. No matter what stage of the growth cycle you’re in, you’ll find indispensable information in this book.

As with Running Lean, Scaling Lean includes a focus on real-world examples, putting success stories like AirBnB and Dropbox under the microscope to see how they successfully implemented their market-changing ideas.

So, if you’re looking to answer detailed questions about your growth rate, the speed of your product development, or your revenue models, Scaling Lean is a great place to start.


12. Value Proposition Design: How to Create Products and Services Customers Want, Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur, Patricia Papadakos, Gregory Bernarda, Alan Smith

Fortunately for us, the authors of the wildly successful book Business Model Generation weren’t happy to rest on their laurels. Instead, Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur partnered with Patricia Papadakos, Gregory Bernarda, and Alan Smith for another classic innovation text.

Value Proposition Design offers more great advice on innovation in business, but with a stronger focus on the specific steps involved with implementing innovation. Continuing the same visual format, the book provides practical tools for businesses to nurture and develop new ideas.

In this book, the authors teach readers valuable tools and techniques to guide effective collaboration between teams, channel innovation thinking into productive areas, and guide businesses through the process of designing, testing and trialling innovative products.

Even more helpfully, Value Proposition Design focuses heavily on practical exercises, process illustrations, and suggestions for collaborative workshop exercises. This helps readers put this helpful advice and information to maximum use.

Other innovation books

Sometimes, there are books that don’t fit neatly into any one particular category, but are nonetheless filled with compelling perspectives, information, and advice on innovation.

Here are three of our favorite wild card entries.


13. The Myths of Innovation, Scott Berkun

As helpful as it is to learn about popular and successful ideas, it’s refreshing to find an author willing to take a bulldozer to some of the more unhelpful, yet somehow very persistent, innovation concepts.

This is precisely what Scott Berkun achieves here. Through each entertaining chapter, Berkun explodes different popular myths concerning innovation, including examining how stories of innovations can be distorted by history, and why the best idea doesn’t always win.

Berkun’s frank style is informative and illuminating, and makes for a welcome change from some of the conventional wisdom out there concerning innovation. For every tired business phrase you’ve heard a thousand times, this book offers an evidence-based antidote.

In The Myths of Innovation, Berkun draws from years of experience in Microsoft and other tech companies, examining case studies in business, science, and technology to explain why certain innovations take over the world, and others fail to even get out of the gate.

From Einstein’s Theory of Relativity through to Tim Berner Lee’s early idea for the Internet, there are plenty of engaging examples here to show how innovation works.

Even more helpfully, Berkun shows us why so much conventional wisdom concerning creativity in commerce should be thrown in the trash heap.


14. Dual Transformation: How to Reposition Today’s Business While Creating the Future, Scott D. Anthony, Clark G. Gilbert, Mark W. Johnson

For business leaders looking to stay ahead of the pack, there’s nothing like a good case study. After all, putting a market disruption like Skype, AirBnB, or Netflix under the microscope can teach you a lot about what it takes to offer a world-changing product.

In Dual Transformation, authors Scott D. Anthony, Clark G. Gilbert, and Mark W. Johnson blend dozens of informative and illuminating case studies about businesses undergoing radical transformation, and how they managed to stay on top in rapidly changing markets.

By digging deeper into the stories of companies like Adobe, Aetna, and Johnson & Johnson, Dual Transformation offers behind-the-scenes guidance and advice on how businesses can change and be rebuilt from the ground up.

With an abundance of practical insights on why some businesses fail to respond to dramatic shifts in the market (for example, Kodak), and why some are able to anticipate disruptive innovations to stay on top (for example, Microsoft), Dual Transformation has it all.

Check out this informative book, and find out how your business could eventually become the next improved version of itself.


15. Cascades: How to Create a Movement that Drives Transformational Change, Greg Satell

For the final entry on our list, we’re taking a look at Cascades, the provocative follow-up to Greg Satell’s Mapping Innovation.

In Cascades, Satell examines innovation in a collective sense, taking a microscope to case studies like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring to see what makes some social movements succeed when others fizzle out.

As Satell says, most startups don’t survive, and most community movements don’t make it beyond a few meetings and the occasional protest. The ones which do make it, Satell suggests, succeed because of “cascades” - small groups united by a common purpose.

Cascades is a fascinating study of the power of collective behavior in driving change, and has a lot of helpful insights into why and how markets, regimes, and even whole countries experience disruptive upheaval.

For business leaders and entrepreneurs wanting to understand innovation at the social and community levels, Cascades is required reading.

Whoever thought a story about the Ukrainian media sector would offer so many valuable lessons about innovation and transformational change?

Now it's time to read

Whether you’re looking for new ways to unleash your innovative potential, rebuilding a startup from the ground up, or making sure your systems nurture great ideas from whiteboard to a finished product, these innovation books will open your eyes and help you reach innovation.

Happy reading!