10 Best Books for a Crash Course on Innovation

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I’m a lover of knowledge, history, and information. I like to think it’s a big part of what has led me to the great personal and professional experiences I’ve had throughout my life.

When I read a book that moves me – whether it’s on leadership and professional level or a personal level – I tell others about it.

Throughout the years, I’ve read several books on topics ranging from business, finance, and management to leadership and inspiration. But there are a select few that have stuck with me when it comes to being innovative in work and life.

Here are my top 10 selections.

Berman spent several years shadowing various individuals and leaders.

His book, based on his observations and experiences, talks about creating a culture that allows you to face your fears and challenges head-on. From a business perspective, this book reaffirms that you cannot be afraid to do things differently.

That same affirmation applies to me on a personal level, as a husband and father to four young children.

This book challenges you to think about demand in a different way, highlighting various companies that have embraced innovation.

Imagine a product or service that people don’t even know they want or need. The author reinforces the importance of thinking through concepts and seeing issues through the eyes and hearts of your customers.

With this insight, you can be proactive in solving problems and providing solutions.

As a baseball fan, I appreciate this book’s union of America’s favorite pastime with the concept of achieving success.

The authors discuss specific baseball teams and players who have achieved greatness in the face of adversity. The book drives home the point that success shouldn’t be about simply focusing on the end product – whether that’s a World Series championship or a new smartphone launch.

Success is also about coaching, training, and building team players – in baseball and business.

Kahneman, a scientist, and writer received the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on decision-making.

His book, which details how we make decisions and choices, is a well-researched analysis of human behavior and the human brain. While not necessarily intended to be a business book, it inherently is.

Business, leadership, and innovation involve making decisions.

Humans are imperfect and – sometimes – irrational. But when our irrational thoughts and actions become a part of our beings, it can be problematic.

Ariely, a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University, has researched how we make financial choices, which has implications when it comes to business and innovation.

He surmises that we act irrationally and irresponsibly based on preconceived notions that we get more if we spend more – even when we know that isn’t true. However, it’s a trait that appears to be engrained in many, and the key is acknowledging this and acting more rationally and innovatively.

You may be familiar with this story from the 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt. Yes, this is another book about baseball! But it’s also about how innovation can be rewarding.

In “Moneyball,” the Oakland Athletics look at different game statistics to build their 2002 team. Whereas most baseball scouts rate ability and talent on batting averages or stolen bases, the A’s looked at other skills and statistics that allowed them to build a winning team. And they spent a third of what the New York Yankees did that year. Sabermetrics, the methodology the A’s used, involves statistical analysis of baseball records to evaluate and compare the performance of individual players.

It worked. The A’s were in the playoffs in both 2002 and 2003.

At the heart of innovation is the notion that your idea – whether it’s a product, process, policy or proposal – can be an improvement.

But that often requires a decent amount of risk-taking and analysis of what has, or hasn’t, worked. After all, businesses need data to build. But this mindset wasn’t necessarily inherent with leadership for some time.

In fact, Silver’s book was published in 2012, when the concepts of “big data” and analytics were in their infancy. A primary takeaway from Silver’s book is that making predictions is a part of our everyday lives. But in many ways, we aren’t utilizing it – or promoting it – in the right ways.

Sometimes all the data available to us doesn’t help in terms of making predictions and, ultimately, business decisions. But utilizing the data we have can only benefit us all in the long run. Thanks to that, innovation can happen.

Gladwell’s thoughtful analysis examines that magical “tipping point” in time when a product, idea or movement goes from unknown to very well known.

From a business and innovation standpoint, it’s interesting to think about how to get to this point of success.

Grant encourages us not to conform or give in to what everyone else is doing or thinking. Instead, we should be unique and creative. We should be innovative!

Two main takeaways are the notions of questioning the default and tripling the number of ideas we come up with. In doing so, we create and innovate, following in the footsteps of great inventors, scholars and leaders have been doing for years.

An aside: Grant is a well-known professor at The Wharton School of Business, and being an alum, I was that much more interested in reading his book.

In this historical analysis of innovation, Johnson discusses various events, products and people who have sparked innovation.

Along the way, he makes the case for teamwork, failure, testing, and refinement. One of my favorite lines from the book is, “Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.” And when we explore, we can innovate.

About the Author

Website: HealthMarkets

Michael Z. Stahl serves as executive vice president of HealthMarkets—one of the nation’s largest independent insurance agencies in the Medicare, individual and supplemental health, life, and small group insurance markets.

He has a B.S. in economics from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and holds the chartered property casualty underwriter (CPCU), associate in insurance accounting and finance (AIAF) and associate in reinsurance (ARe). An avid Kansas City Royals fan, he lives in Dallas with his wife and children.