According to Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation, the purpose of his book is to
share the truths everyone should know about how big ideas really change the world. Far too much of what we know about creativity isn’t based on facts at all, and my mission is to change this.
The book was heavily researched with 100s of footnotes and references, and these are the main points, the Ten Myth of Innovation:
- We mistakenly obsess about flashes of insight (The myth of epiphany). Flashes of insight dominate how creativity is reported, despite how small a role they play in breakthroughs. Epiphanies are a consequence of effort, not just the inspiration for it. And no idea is completely original, as all ideas are made from other ideas.
- Technological progress does not move in a straight line (The myth that we know history). We romanticize the past to fit the present, creating traps for creatives who don’t know the true history of their own field. Edison did not invent the lightbulb. Ford did not invent the assembly line.
- Progress, and market success, are inherently unpredictable (The myth of a method). The challenge with creative work, especially in a marketplace, is the many factors beyond your control. You can do everything right and still fail. Most books on creativity make big promises based on history: they cherry pick examples from the past to support their “method”. Methods can be useful but they deny that the present is different from the past. There are too many variables in the present to have certainty.
- People resist change, including progress (The myth we love new ideas). While talking about creativity is very popular, actually being creative puts your social status at risk. All great ideas were rejected, often for years or decades. The history of breakthroughs is a tale of persistence against rejection.
- We overstate individual contributions and under-recognize teams (The myth of the lone inventor). It’s easier to worship a hero if they are portrayed as superhuman. But even people worthy of the title genius or prodigy like Mozart, Picasso and Einstein had family and teachers who taught them.
- Good ideas are everywhere, it’s courage that’s scarce (The myth that good ideas are rare). We are built for creativity. The problem is the conventions of adult life demand conformity and we sacrifice our creative instincts in favor of social status. Unlike a child, adults are supremely and instantly judgmental, killing ideas before they’ve had even a moment to prove their worth.
- People in charge often resist change (The myth your boss knows more than you). To rise in power demands good political judgement, yet innovation requires a willingness to defy convention. Convention-defiers are harder to promote in most organizations, yet essential for progress.
- The world of ideas is not a meritocracy (The myth the best idea wins). Marketing, politics and timing have tremendous influence on why one idea or its competitors wins. To be successful with ideas demands studying why some lousy ideas have triumphed and some great ones are still on the sidelines.
- Defining problems well is as important as solving them (The myth that problems are less interesting than solutions). There are many creative ways to think about a problem, and different ways to look at a situation. The impatient run at full speed into solving things, speeding right past the insights needed to find a great solution.
- Unintended consequences are hard to avoid (The myth that innovation is always good). How would you feel about an invention that ends your profession? All innovation is change and all change helps some people and hurts others.
18 Quotes from The Myths of Innovation
“The best lesson from the myths of Newton and Archimedes is to work passionately but to take breaks. Sitting under trees and relaxing in baths lets the mind wander and frees the subconscious to do work on our behalf. ” ― Scott Berkun
“In a recent survey, innovative people — from inventors to scientists, writers to programmers — were asked what techniques they used. Over 70% believed they got their best ideas by exploring areas they were not experts in”― Scott Berkun
“Howard H. Aiken, a famous inventor, said, “Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” ― Scott Berkun
“Freeman Dyson, a world-class physicist and author (said): “I think it’s very important to be idle…people who keep themselves busy all the time are generally not creative. So I am not ashamed of being idle.” ― Scott Berkun
“The love of new ideas is a myth: we prefer ideas only after others have tested them.” ― Scott Berkun
“Nearly every major innovation of the 20th century took place without claims of epiphany.” ― Scott Berkun
“Professional management was born from the desire to optimize and control, not to lead waves of change.” ― Scott Berkun
“Einstein said, “ Imagination is more important than knowledge,” but you’d be hard-pressed to find schools or corporations that invest in people with those priorities…We reward conformance of mind, not independent thought, in our systems — from school to college to the workplace to the home — yet we wonder why so few are willing to take creative risks.” ― Scott Berkun
“One way to think about epiphany is to imagine working on a jigsaw puzzle. When you put the last piece into place, is there anything special about that last piece or what you were wearing when you put it in? The only reason that last piece is significant is because of the other pieces you’d already put into place. If you jumbled up the pieces a second time, any one of them could turn out to be the last, magical piece. Epiphany works the same way: it’s not the apple or the magic moment that matters much, it’s the work before and after” ― Scott Berkun
“The future never enters the present as a finished product, but that doesn’t stop people from expecting it to arrive that way.” ― Scott Berkun
“The Greeks were so committed to ideas as supernatural forces that they created an entire group of goddesses (not one but nine) to represent creative power; the opening lines of both The Iliad and The Odyssey begin with calls to them. These nine goddesses, or muses, were the recipients of prayers from writers, engineers, and musicians. Even the great minds of the time, like Socrates and Plato, built shrines and visited temples dedicated to their particular muse (or muses, for those who hedged their bets). Right now, under our very secular noses, we honor these beliefs in our language, as the etymology of words like museum (“place of the muses”) and music (“art of the muses”) come from the Greek heritage of ideas as superhuman forces.” ― Scott Berkun
“In this age, being seen as an “expert” may have little bearing on the “expert’s” ability to do the thing she is supposedly an expert in.”
― Scott Berkun
“The chief cause of problems is solutions. — Eric Sevareid” ― Scott Berkun
“It’s natural for people to protect what they know instead of leaping into the unknown, and managers are no exception. Managers might even be worse, as the politics they rely on to survive can make them more entrenched and defensive.” ― Scott Berkun
“Einstein once said, “If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 days to define it,” ― Scott Berkun
“By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves…we fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise. — Charles V. Willie” ― Scott Berkun
“Developing new ideas requires questions and approaches that most people won’t understand initially, which leaves many true innovators at risk of becoming lonely, misunderstood characters.” ― Scott Berkun
“Innovating comes at a price: it might be money, time, sanity, friends, or marriages, but there will definitely be one.” ― Scott Berkun
Scott Berkun is an American author and speaker. Berkun studied computer science, philosophy, and design at Carnegie Mellon University. He worked at Microsoft from 1994 to 2003 on Internet Explorer 1.0 to 5.0, Windows, MSN, and in roles including usability engineer, lead program manager, and UI design evangelist. He left Microsoft in 2003 with the goal of filling his bookshelf with books he has written.
- The Art of Project Management
- Making things happen,
- The Myths of Innovation,
- Confessions of a Public Speaker,
- Mindfire: Big Ideas for Curious Minds,
- The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work,
- The Ghost of My Father