The Myths of Innovation

Book Review : The Myths of Innovation
Author(s)   : Scott Berkun
Publisher   : O'Reilly Media, Inc.; 1 edition (May 15, 2007)
ISBN        : 0596527055
Pages       : 192
Language    : English

The Myths of Innovation

  • Chapter 1, The myth of epiphany
  • Chapter 2, We understand the history of innovation
  • Chapter 3, There is a method for innovation
  • Chapter 4, People love new ideas
  • Chapter 5, The lone inventor
  • Chapter 6, Good ideas are hard to find
  • Chapter 7, Your boss knows more about innovation than you
  • Chapter 8, The best ideas win
  • Chapter 9, Problems and solutions
  • Chapter 10, Innovation is always good
  • Appendix, Research and recommendations

Author chose the chapter titles as topics for discussion. Some of them are declined in the same chapter, like "People love new ideas". Using the examples author tries to show how it is with the innovations, what is progress and how it is seen by common people or by history.

The book is full of examples from the successful new age companies / projects like Apple Macintosh, Google, Palm Pilot, 3M, Linux, etc. But we can find there also researchers like Alexander Graham Bell, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Henry Ford, Archimedes, Galileo, Guttenberg, etc. Lots of quotes and lots of examples how these people / companies changed the world.

Here are the things that I really liked:

Chapter 1, The myth of epiphany

Epiphany is the moment when the last piece of work fits into place. However, the last piece isn't any more magical than the others, and has no magic without its connection to the other pieces.

Behind all the innovations there is a big piece of work. It's not enough to let the apple fall on your head to invent the laws of motion. Lots of innovations that boosted the companies happened aside from the main activity or the research of the team. That's why companies like 3M (15%) and Google (20%) give some extra time to their employees for projects of their choice. More about this is discussed on the authors page.

Chapter 2, We understand the history of innovation

History is written by those who win and those who dominate. -Edward Said History is the lie commonly agreed upon. -Voltaire Evolution means only that what's on top is fit for the current environment, not that it's "better".

100 people 100 opinions, which one is the best? My world is IT so I'll use an example from that field that will for sure bring a flame wars and emotions. Which of the computer operating systems is the best? Which one is better than the other? All of them have a place in the history, time (evolution) will show which one will dominate. Not necessarilly the most advanced.

Chapter 3, There is a method for innovation

By definition innovation is a charge into the unknown. -Unknown

Chapter 4, People love new ideas

Don't worry about people stealing your idea. If it's original, you will have to ram it down their throats. -Howard Aiken

The title is opposite of what is happening in reality. Here is the list of reactions that people often use when they face a new idea:

  • This will never work.
  • No one will want this.
  • It can't work in praxis.
  • People won't understand it.
  • This isn't a problem.
  • This is a problem, but no one cares.
  • This is a problem and people care, but it's already solved.
  • This is a problem and people care, but it will never make money.
  • This is a solution in search of a problem.
  • Get out of my office/cave now.

Innovator often sees "the door". What would you say to the person that would come to your telegraphic company, and start to explain to you as a boss and owner, that people will speak to each other across far distance? To "the young boy" that is trying to make your achievement useless? No wonder that big companies are afraid of innovations. On the other hand to make common people (consumers) accept a new thing, there must be the right time, the right place and endless amount of effort.

From my own experience I know that to introduce a new software in the company need a lot of patience. I still remember the words of my boss, that told me that I should not be disgusted:

When you move the pen of someone from right side of his table to the left side, you can be sure that he will come to you, that he can not work as he is used to have his pen on the right side. -Ivan Makovinsk√Ĺ.

Only after some time I really appraise his support and trust in me.

Chapter 5, The lone inventor

History loves the notion of the sole innovator. History is wrong. Successful companies are started, and made successful by at least two, and usually more, soulmates. -Guy Kawasaki

Slovak saying says - One swallow will not make spring. One clever person in the team is not enough. And more he is "out" the less is he accepted. Or there is no opponent. That is not healthy for the team neither for the company. To find someone that is on the same wavelength is really hard. But when it happens we get resonance.

One theory says, that everything was here already. Even if the inventor is alone with his, still unfamous, idea, he never starts from scratch. There are always thoughts and ideas from others that tried similar things.

This is the attribute that I value the most about the Perl programming language. Specifically on the page of Comprehensive Perl Archive Network we can find more then 14 thousand universal solutions from more than 6 thousand authors from nearly any field - informatics, mathematics, chemistry, physics, ... There is no need to reinvent the wheel. Or if someone has a different opinion on the problem definition/solution he is free to first learn from the others and then create a different (better?) one. It's like having 6 thousand colleagues!

Chapter 6, Good ideas are hard to find

The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas. Imagination is more important than knowledge. -Albert Einstein

Albert can be right but, it will be really hard to find job offers with this priority.


What would you say in 1967 if someone will come to see you with a piece of wood with wheels and a wire, speaking about the future? That this is the way how the computers of the future will be controlled? (on the picture there is "X-Y position indicator for a display system" - U.S. Patent 3,541,541)

To close up. Book is full of successful examples that changed the world, explosive company grows. But for sure there are many even more failed tries. When experiencing those, the best way is to tell ourselves the Slovak saying - Who makes nothing, breaks nothing and don't get discouraged.

Chapter 7, Your boss knows more about innovation than you

This book has emphasized the point that no one knows what's possible. Things are only impossible until they're not. High experience and confidence make people the greatest resistors to new ideas as they have most to lose. It's natural for people to protect what they know instead of leaping into the unknown, and managers are no exceptions.

Chapter begins with that, that the boss/manager is also just a human. Without stepping into the unknown the new things will not be discovered. To step into the unknown and have responsibilities for projects/people need a courage. To tune the team for innovations:

  • Let the ideas survive
  • Inspirating environment
  • Protection on the new ideas by the manager
  • Find the balance (time/finance) while executing new ideas
  • Persuasion - Persuasion is needed to start a project, recruit top people, obtain resources, convince talent (or spouses) not to leave, as well as to compel investors or customers to buy once there is something to sell.

Chapter 8, The best ideas win

Yes, the best one wins but to try to explain what it means "the best" is the goal of this chapter. Not always the best is the most advanced.

Chapter 9, Problems and solutions

If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it. -Albert Einstein

There are lot of people concentrating too much on the solutions and they are forgetting that at least as important is to understand the problem itself.

Discovering problems actually requires just as much creativity as discovering solutions.

Chapter 10, Innovation is always good

There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Most of the innovators believe in good of their invention, but from history we know that many innocent inventions were turned into the weapons. Was it good or bad? It depends on which side of the barbed wire we are. What is good as well as what is the best is relative.

As ridiculous as it is to accept all new ideas simply because they're new, it's equally silly to accept all traditions simply because they're traditions. Ideas new and old have their place in the future, and it's our job to put them there.

These were the last words of the book.

Appendix, Research and recommendations

There is a big collection of references to the literature and a web pages that deal with innovations, creative thinking and problem solution, but also the history of inventions.


The book is easy to read. It's full of new thoughts and ideas, trying to cheer up the reader to do the change and go for the new things. For sure it's the only way how to make rocket raise of the company shares. On the other hand to be a little conservative never hurts. I will recommend it to the people in charge of making decisions, so that they will not miss/waste the opportunities for their companies and there by for them.

More about the topic:
Innovative Minds Don't Think Alike
Principles of Innovation