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The Friday Five: Great Books on Business and Innovation

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 4, 2009 07:13 AM

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Every Friday, I serve up a list of five things worth knowing about -- and invite you to add more in the comments.

This week, as we all take off to enjoy the last long weekend of summer, the topic is great books about business and innovation, with strong Boston connections.

In no particular order:

- The Innovator's Dilemma, by Harvard Business School prof Clayton Christensen. Ever heard the term "disruptive technology"? Christensen coined it in this seminal book that explains why successful and established companies often miss the next wave of important innovation in their industries.

- Published online in 1999, The Cluetrain Manifesto laid out many of the important ways that the relationship between companies and customers, as well as between companies and employees, would change over the coming decade. Two of the manifesto's four co-authors, Doc Searls and David Weinberger, are fellows at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society. They've just put out a tenth anniversary edition of their manifesto, with some new material.

- Evan Schwartz was a Brookline resident when he wrote The Last Lone Inventor, about the battle between Utah farmboy Philo T. Farnsworth and RCA executive David Sarnoff over a technology we still spend hours with every week: television. A riveting tale of the brilliant individual inventor up against the deep-pocketed corporation.

- Former Harvard Business School researcher Juan Enriquez predicted in As the Future Catches You that DNA will be "the dominant language and economic driver" of the 21st century. You'll find the book's unusual layout either maddening or invigorating. Enriquez now runs the Boston investment firm Biotechonomy. A valuable guide to the landscape of life sciences.

- The quest for The Billion Dollar Molecule, chronicled in Barry Werth's 1995 book, is still underway at Cambridge-based Vertex Pharmaceuticals, even though founder and primary character Joshua Boger stepped down as chief executive earlier this year. Great intro to the business of biotech.

What other books deserve a spot on this list? Do post a comment...

(Photo of Clay Christensen, above, is by Kerry Burke, BC Media Technology Services.)

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11 comments so far...
  1. All great books! When I was running the Babson Center for Business Innovation it became clear to me that there are distinct lessons to be learned by companies (even gov agencies!) who have been able to sustain innovation. (Talked about in my latest book The Innovation Zone ) Many of these lessons have to do with developing a culture and a set of organizational goals that cause people to relearn (actual unlearn) what they have been taught about how innovation should work. The reality is that we still teach kids in K-12 little about innovation and mostly drive creativity and innovation out of them in factory classrooms. Social networks and helping to offset that to a degree but we need to create a better foundation of innovation skills and tools for the next generation. That's being done in some private non-profit programs such as Dean Kaman's First and - it's a start. On the other hand we are pouring billions upon billions into economic stimulus with very, very little of it going to small and medium sized business - where the vast majority of innovation, new jobs, and radical ideas are created. - tk

    Posted by Thomas Koulopoulos September 4, 09 09:00 AM
  1. I'd put Born Digital - co-authored by John Palfrey from Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Policy - on the list. It's a thought provoking and in-depth look at the generation that has grown up with the web and what that means – socially, professionally, and psychologically – for them and society in general.

    Posted by Jeff Janer September 4, 09 09:05 AM
  1. Harold Evans' book "They made America" is a great collection of biographies of innovators. There are a lot of Massachusetts based innovators in there including Francis Cabot Lowell, Georges Doriot and Ken Olsen.

    Posted by Dilip Warrier September 4, 09 10:11 AM
  1. 5 Dysfunctions of a Team and What Would Google Do are two that come to mind as well

    Posted by Pano September 4, 09 12:59 PM
  1. One of my favorite books of all time is: "Founders at Work - Stories of Startups' Early Days." by Jessica Livingston, who is one of the founding partners at Y Combinator. It is a book where she interviews the founders from a variety of successful tech companies and shares the lessons learned from each one.

    Boston is represented in the book with the following companies: Software Arts (Dan Bricklin), Lotus (Mitch Kapor), Groove Networks (Ray Ozzie), ArsDigita (Philip Greenspun), TripAdvisor (Stephen Kaufer), Lycos (Bob Davis).

    I highly recommend it!

    Keith Cline

    Posted by Keith Cline September 4, 09 01:52 PM
  1. I'm reading Thomas's book right now and I'm finding it fascinating. We do a Innovation focused Technology Conference each year in Atlanta hosted by the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG), and the 2010 Conference will focus on how Innovation is transforming economics. As a Board Member of TAG I would love to hear more thoughts on this subject. I'm also on the committee putting together the 2010 conference and would appreciate your thoughts on keynote speakers who would could really address the Conference theme.

    Posted by Patrick D. Gaul September 4, 09 04:12 PM
  1. Hi -

    Steven Blank's _The Four Steps to the Epiphany_ came highly recommended, but I have not read it yet. Does anyone here care to comment?

    gregg favalora
    optics for hire

    Posted by Gregg Favalora September 4, 09 08:11 PM
  1. Two of my favorites:
    Steve Blank's - Four Steps to Epiphany (
    Guy Kawasaki's - Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition

    Steve Blank's book should almost serve as a bible to technology and product-centric startups.

    Posted by Apolinaras "Apollo" Sinkevicius | September 5, 09 03:04 AM
  1. Although it was published nearly three decades ago, Soul of a New Machine by Tracey Kidder shows that great innovation can happen in strange places and not always as planned. It's the famous story of how a skunkworks project by a group of frustrated engineers at Data General (remember them?) resulted in a new computer system that saved the company (at the time). It reads like a thriller. I love behind-the-scenes business stories, and this is a great one.

    Posted by janicelbrown September 5, 09 07:58 AM
  1. All great recommendations! I would also like to add: “A whole new mind: why right-brainers will rule the future” by Daniel Pink, less of a practical recipe compared to other titles recommended so far, but a thought-provoking stand for the value of a fresh perspective in spurring innovation. I am big fan of allowing for and capitalizing on “diversity of thought”, which comes from positively mixing different ways to analyze and solve problems, diverse educational, professional and life experiences (something I call “constructive interference”

    Posted by Zorina Galis September 5, 09 10:55 AM


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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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