Scott Berkun's 10 Innovation Myths

Last Updated Apr 15, 2010 5:57 AM EDT

One of my favourite books on innovation is 'The Myths of Innovation' by Scott Berkun. Berkun is a writer and speaker and former programme manager at Microsoft. Here are Scott Berkun's 10 myths of innovation summed up in a few words:
  1. The myth of the epiphany: If many innovations are described as magical moments, the truth is often more complex: hard work is required and the Eureka moment often comes at the end of that process.
  2. We understand the history of innovation: Most of the stories we read about innovation aren't real. Google wasn't a search engine to start with, nor was Flickr a photo sharing platform. Most innovations are the results of errors, changes and corrections.
  3. There is a method for innovation: Despite our attraction to recipes, innovation is essentially a leap into the unknown. method for innovation is an oxymoron.
  4. People love new ideas: Changing one's habits is always a challenge, and that is true of customers too, so says Geoffrey Moore's 'Crossing the Chasm'. There is no end to the list of rejections and outright hostility from the critics that innovators have to face.
  5. The lone inventor: We like stories in which a genius single-handedly changed the world: Edison invented the electric light; Ford invented the automobile -- neither is quite the case. More usually, successful companies are often started by a group of people, or by developing others' innovations.
  6. Good ideas are hard to find: Ideas are everywhere, not just found in a brainstorm session. Most come through trial and error. I love to pick other people's brains and make notes of the ideas they have had but have never had the pluck to implement. "It would be so nice if we could..." is often my starting point for innovation.
  7. Your boss knows more about innovation than you: Berkun argues that managers can make decisions that others can't but this doesn't mean that they always know what to do. Managers can be afraid of innovation because it undermines their own position of authority.
  8. The best ideas win: There is a common assumption that the inventions for the job are the most successful. There are so many counter-examples such as the QWERTY keyboard , HTML and JavaScript and the M-16 rifle. There are seven factors that drive product success: culture, dominant design, inheritance and tradition, politics, economics, subjectivity and short-term orientation.
  9. Innovations happen by chance: You can't produce great innovations unless you are able to spell out clearly the specific problems that the innovation is meant to solve and how it does it. Believing that serendipity plays a major role in innovation is a product of the myth of the epiphany,
  10. Innovation is always good: Rudolf diesel is said to have committed suicide when he realised that his invention would only be bought by the military. His innovation was being used to do harm and kill people, not to do good and improve people's lives. Other examples abound quoted by Berkun in his book are DDT and personal computers which has created a digital divide in global society.
(Pic: Scott Berkun)
  • Yann Gourvennec

    Yann Gourvennec is head of internet and digital media at Orange Business Services. He is in charge of the international operator's websites and blogs. and has been in marketing and innovation for over 20 years.