Some recent dead tree reading

Now and again I find time to read books about work-related stuff. Here are three I have been tucking into recently.

John Naughton is a hero of mine. His weekly column in The Observer is required reading, and A Brief History of the Future is a wonderful primer on the origins of the internet. His latest book is a treasure trove of information which works just as well for the net newbie as it does the veteran of the interwebs.

Another book, another hero. Now at innovation software firm Spigit, James Gardner was once of the DWP where he implemented the ‘Idea Street’ innovation prediction market. His Little Innovation Book is a marvellously concise introduction to innovating in big organisations, and in Sidestep and Twist he outline how the big, game-changing breakthroughs tend to be adaptations of existing ideas rather than anything genuinely new.

Euan Semple is one of the best bloggers on social software, and following from his work with the BBC a few years ago, he understands the frustrations of trying to implement new ways of working within corporate structures. Organisations Don’t Tweet… is a great introductory work, in which nonetheless I found loads of nuggets of inspiration and learning – as well as a few reminders of things I ought to know but had forgotten. Buy this book for your boss!

Innovating doesn’t mean doing something new

I’ve been a big fan of James Gardner‘s work on innovation for a while now. His blog is a great read and his Little Innovation Book is a fantastic run down of the things you need to know.

His new book is going to be called Sidestep and Twist and it’s main point is that the big, impactful innovations are usually improvements or adaptations of existing ideas.

So you don’t need to be first with an idea, you just need to be able to execute well. Think iPod – not the first MP3 player by a long shot, but it was better than the others and made such devices mainstream.

In this video, James gives a really thought provoking thirty minute-odd talk about this idea. It’s well worth watching:

If you can’t see the video, you’ll find it on YouTube.

10 rules to start innovating

Little Innovation BookJames Gardner‘s Little Innovation Book is a great read for anyone who has an interesting in getting their team, department or organisation doing things differently. Not only is it short, and very practical, it’s also cheap – you can read it online for free, or buy an ebook version for a few quid.

Innovation seems almost a dirty word at times. I lose count of the number of times I see people putting on their lists of words they cannot bear. I don’t understand why this is; maybe because most people and organisations are so bad at it? I should think that would mean we ought to be talking about it more, in that case!

It strikes me that we need good innovation now, in government, more than ever. After all, what with the budget cuts, things are going to have to change one way or another. The two ideas that seem to be emerging from local government are shared services and outsourcing. I’m sure we can do better than that?

Anyhow, James’ book is made up of 10 rules for innovating. Am sure he won’t mind me reproducing them here, with a quick description of each. If you want more (including some great case studies), you’ll have to read the book.

  1. Create an Innovation Strategy First – decide what your innovation aim is and how you can best get there: do nothing, play to win, or play not to lose
  2. Define What Innovation Means – “one has to have an understanding of what will be acceptable as outputs from innovators before one starts to be innovative”
  3. Make Sure the Role of Innovators is Clear – are those with responsibility for innovation actually involved in innovating, or in promoting a culture of innovation?
  4. Have a Connection to the Money – innovators must ensure they get some budget, although not too much – but have to justify it to the bean counters
  5. Address the 3 Big Myths – which are that 1) ideas are the most important thing; 2) innovation is all about big hits; and 3) innovation is risky, unpredictable and a luxury
  6. Manage the Technologists – “The key to co-operation is to find a trigger point which allows Information Technology to contribute within the boundaries of their prioritization framework without alienating them altogether”.
  7. Answer the 3 Key Questions – which are: ‘Can we do this?’, ‘Should we do this?’ and ‘When?’.
  8. Drown the Puppy – to keep returns on innovation projects high, get used to killing the ones which probably won’t work out.
  9. Share Everything – “innovators who talk about their work, share their knowledge, and network widely seem to be much more successful than those who don’t”.
  10. Manage the People – have you got the right group of people in the team to work on the innovation project and make it work?

An interesting innovation discussion

An interesting exchange online happened last week after the wonderful Robert Brook posted a piece on his site entitled ‘Boring Innovation‘ – all about how innovation can best happen within large, complex organisations, like those you tend to find in government.

It’s well worth reading in full, here’s a snippet:

How about this: a two-pronged approach. Introduce, recognise and support innovative thinking within the existing processes – and, separately, set up a sandboxed arms-length entity to take on the risk. But, make that sandbox small and real – very quick turnover of work, short iterations, very tight on the money.

This was quickly picked up on by James Gardner, CTO of the DWP and author of several publications on innovation (he got the link via another post by Stefan – everything’s linked these days).

James writes:

Everyone thinks innovatively all the time, whether they know it or not. But when it comes down to the press of doing the day job, versus changing it to accommodate innovation, most people will just do what they have always done…

That’s why you need an innovation unit, whether you bought it or grew it yourself. The name of the game is about starting lots of little, new projects. Without waiting for that random blue-bird superstar performer who can do it without any help at all.

Genuinely, how great is it that this debate is being held, in the open, online so that everyone can share in what is being said, and contribute to, if they choose to.

This is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about in my discussion about the .gov.uk blogosphere. it’s great to see people like Robert and James being so actively involved like this – and as per my earlier post, Alistair and Carl too.