My recommended reading list for this summer includes 10 books with very different approaches to innovation. In some cases, these books take you inside the thought process of a top innovator, whether it’s a Silicon Valley entrepreneur (Elon Musk), a Hollywood filmmaker (Brian Grazer) or a Nobel Prize laureate (Alvin E. Roth). In other cases, these books give you insights into the fields and disciplines – such as cybersecurity, space exploration and artificial intelligence — that are shaping the future of global innovation.
Who Gets What – and Why by Alvin E. Roth
Markets are part of our everyday life, whether it’s landing a vacation rental on Airbnb, bidding for an item on eBay, or finding your future life partner in the dating pool. Stanford professor Alvin E. Roth, the co-recipient of the 2012 Nobel Prize in Economics, explains the science of matchmaking and market design, pointing out how and why “matching markets” work. As Roth points out, these ideas about intelligent and effective market design are relevant for both business and government. Just another reminder that, for Silicon Valley start-ups, matchmaking should be top-of-mind when thinking about new products and new markets.
In addition to producing films such as “Apollo 13” and “A Beautiful Mind” (starring Russell Crowe as brilliant mathematician John Nash, who passed away in May), Hollywood filmmaker Brian Grazer was also the creative genius behind the Emmy-nominated “24” TV series. So what has inspired Grazer? It turns out that he’s a fan of weekly “curiosity conversations,” which are a way for him to find out more about subjects or people that he knows nothing about. Any innovator can learn from this approach — it’s not enough just to have deep domain knowledge, one also needs the ability to be inspired by ideas from a wide range of different disciplines.
Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
Elon Musk might just be the most famous innovator in America, if not the world, these days. If you want to get inside his head and see what makes him tick, this biography is a fascinating read. It turns out that Musk is just as driven and eccentric as you might expect him to be, working 23-hour days and reading up on Soviet rocket manuals in his spare time. Based on Musk’s unique experience starting companies such as Tesla and SpaceX, Vance suggests that he will come to be seen as an American innovation giant, in the mold of a Edison or Ford.
While books about Google are not quite as unique as they used to be, this one comes from the head of Google’s People Operations. Laszlo Bock explains how Google goes about finding the best and the brightest employees and offers suggestions on how to make any workplace more innovative. (One important concept: Only hire people who are smarter than you, no matter how long it takes to find them.) These ideas can be used when trying to attract employees to a new start-up, or just trying to max out the creative throughput in your cubicle farm.
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