Innovation brain-food

For me, innovation and creativity come from being exposed to new ideas and thinking and inspiring stories of things people have done and applying them in different ways and different situations to my own work and thinking. One of the most obvious ways I expose myself to thinking and ideas is by reading and so, in an effort to share with others some of the more interesting things I’ve come across over the last year or so, I’ve made a list of books that have caused me to think about things differently.

I don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s been written in all of them, but that’s not the point. They’ve caused me to think and I hope they do the same for you!

23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism – this is the only book I can remember reading twice for many years (the last being Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point). Ha-Joon Chang expertly (and accessibly) dismantles a number of myths that surround popular notions of how our global economy works. A must read for anyone interested in re-thinking economic theory and practice and a great resource to help you challenge defunct conventional wisdom.

Switch: how to change things when change is hard by Dan and Chip Heath is an excellent and fairly light hearted (but still serious) look at change – what helps and hinders efforts to make things different – which is the business many of us are in! Brings change theory to life with interesting anecdotes from a wide range of perspectives in the private, public and not-for-profit sector, with plenty of practical tips to apply in real life.

Reading Switch made me go back to the Heath brothers’ first book, Made to stick: why some ideas take hold and others come unstuck, which is also excellent. It covers some of the same ground as Tipping Point, but is also well worth a read if (like me) you are interested in understanding how we apply change management theory and practice to bringing about social change.

Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us by Daniel Pink is another interesting read on the subject of change, this time exploring the issues of motivation and the psychology of incentives. Whilst the truth that’s ‘uncovered’ may not be as surprising as the title suggests, it does provide a very interesting insight into behaviour change and builds on the thinking behind Nudge and behavioural economics.

Social animal: a story of how success happens by David Brooks – I heard about this on the E-Campaigners Forum email list [which is great by the way, i strongly recommend signing up!] and was then coincidentally given a copy the next week! It has been gaining a lot of attention among politicians and David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both apparently had recent meetings with the author. Don’t let the ‘new nudge’ title put you off. It’s a fascinating read, awash with incredible findings about how the mind works and how we develop as individuals throughout our lives.

Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and Saul Singer is an interesting study of how Israel has developed an entrepreneurial culture that has led to the growth of a thriving technology industry. It offers some valuable lessons in the factors that contribute to an enterprise culture that should give plenty of thought to how we support social (and private) enterprise in the UK. Like most of the other books listed, it includes plenty of interesting stories and examples of things that, whilst improbable, have actually happened.

The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas Carr starts with the premise that technology is changing not just how we act but actually changing our brains physiologically too. I have to confess that I am only half way through this one at the moment, and I’m still undecided on whether this (if true) is actually as important as the author suggests, but it’s certainly got me thinking about how we use technology and how it affects society.

A thousand little things isn’t like the other publications listed. It’s not really a book and you can’t buy it in a bookshop. It’s something that has been produced by the clothing company, Boden. It’s not a catalogue selling things. In fact it’s hard to really say what it is. It’s a fairly random collection of pictures, collages, thoughts and stories from the people who work at Boden (and a few celebrity friends). The reason I like it so much is because of its eclectic and eye-catching design. To my untrained eye it’s a ‘design classic’ and a great example of how good design can pull you in – even if the content isn’t something you’re particularly interested in.

TED talks another slightly different entry to finish off my list. This isn’t a book, or even a publication. It’s people talking. Lots of people. Talking about all sorts of topics from data visualisation to fighting cancer. There are hundreds of short (10-15 minute) video clips of thought provoking and insightful speakers from around the world sharing their ideas. It also includes talks by a number of the authors of the books listed above! If you’re not a book person (or if you want to get a feel for some of the books I’ve mentioned) then this is a great place to go for inspiration and brain food.

So, that’s some of the brain food I’ve been feasting on over the last few months. I’m always on the lookout for interesting material, so do please share any interesting books, articles or video that you’ve come across. 



10 thoughts on “Innovation brain-food

  1. I love lists like this. Always great to see what other people are picking up on. I have this theory that such knowledge is almost more important than knowing the content or key messages in themselves – or to put another way – that knowing what people think of the big idea is more important than the idea itself.In adopting such an approach you can largely get away with just reading the first fifty pages of anything – where the key arguments are outlined and the rest tends to be evidence or filler. Or even if you are super lazy (like me) just go for the book reviews.If this efficient? Is it missing the point? I’ve no idea!

  2. thanks for that Mike. i knew there was a reason we were friends….now i remember, it’s cos you make me look intelligent ;0)Thanks Gethyn, a slightly less pithy comment (but only slightly less). i think i’d always go for actually reading the book (at least these days…as a student, notsomuch!), but you are probably right….the first 50 pages should pretty much give you the highlights! 🙂

  3. Some of these look really interesting and will have a squizz on Amazon for a few of them but wondered if we (Nick’s got some good books too like these) – if we could maybe do some book swaps in the office at some point?

  4. isn't there some book-sharing site that was developed by a nesta-funded socent ?<div><br></div><div>perhaps there could a social innovators brain food book club<br><br></div>

  5. Kate, I’m happy to lend any of the books here. Just let me know which and when and I’ll being them in. There’s also a stack from the similar list I did last year (somewhere on the blog…search for books and it’ll come up!)

  6. A useful post Toby, thanks. I love TED talks, and I started reading Daniel Pink’s Drive a while ago, so must finish it (I have a terrible tendency to get distracted by the next book that comes along).Things I’ve read/am still reading which I’d recommend include:The Starfish and the Spider – brilliant for thinking about networking and decentralising: Sandel’s Justice: Unsung Sixties by Helene Curtis and Mimi Sanderson – published in 2004 so not new, but one of the most inspiring books I’ve come across – it tells the stories of people who founded or worked for organisations working for social change, many of which are now household names and part of the fabric of our sector. Here’s a link to a radio broadcast about it: for something beautiful and inspiring: Hand Made edited by Tessy Britton: I’ve avoided using links to Amazon as I boycott Amazon on ethical grounds – have a look at the company profiles on this page to understand why: On a positive note, a great place to buy and sell second hand books *and* support charities is Green Metropolis:

  7. Pithy? How very dare you Toby.I do *also* like reading the whole thing on occasion. The Michael Sandel book mentioned above is a great example, especially if, like me, you struggle with philosophy. Post-riots I’m also trying to understand more about the social and economic forces shaping young people and can highly recommend Ed Howker and Shiv Malik’s ‘Jilted Generation’ for anyone interested in such things.In a strange way I was trying to make a serious point though. By way of illustration ask yourself this:Is it important to know and understand all of the argument behind Nudge, or is it more important (given what we’re doing with this knowledge) to know what David Cameron and Steve Hilton think and understand about Nudge?For me the current value of the ideas on the social innovators’ book shelf is more extrinsic than intrinsic. What I do with them is more important than fully knowing them. That’s my time saving tip and you’re all very welcome 😉

  8. @Gethyn What if that precision laser instrument responds like a hammer when you're not fully conversant with the operating instructions? {sorry, I couldn't think of a hi-lighter pen metaphor!}<div><br></div><div>That software I mentioned was '<a href="">Bookshare</a>&#039; – a NESTA public service project. Although on closer inspection its not the service I thought it was and it needs a developer to launch it!</div> <div><br></div><div>Lorna's link looks like a useful for link for book club. Certainly something I'd be interested in.</div><div><br></div><div>A book I just finished is <a href="">Groundswell </a>which is a series of case studies (by Forrester Research) about the way that some firms (mainly corporate America) have been forced into action by the groundswell of social media campaigns. Its good for reading across to where social media might be used to create social impact in the societal sense of social – its helped me shape a few ideas about social mobilisation for my so-mo consultancy.</div> <div><br></div><div>And book I'm really enjoying so far is <a href="">Free Radicals</a> by Michael Brooks – a 'dirt n all' look at Science and Scientists, there underhand tactics and why 'anarchy' rules in the world discovery. </div>

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