Innovation & Design

2008's Best Books on Innovation


We chose exciting new titles that tapped into important trends, provoked us, and delved into how to manage and monetize fresh ideas

Old-fashioned ink and paper may have been supplemented with blogs, wikis, and YouTube (GOOG) videos, but many of the top thinkers who focus on innovation published high-profile books in 2008. Our editors and staff writers read and reviewed most of them, interviewing their authors, and often asking, "Why write this book now?"

With highly anticipated titles from the likes of Clayton Christensen and CK Prahalad, we had our hands full. But in distilling the year's books into a top-10 of innovation-related titles, we didn't want to include every obvious business-press offering, or simply opt for publications with the word "innovation" displayed prominently in their titles. Nor did we want to choose something simply because it carried the imprimatur of a reputable press or the byline of a star author.

Instead, we asked ourselves whether a book had an original thesis, tapped into a trend that seemed clearly part of the zeitgeist, or simply provoked us, making us think differently about the world or how better to monetize, mix, or manage fresh ideas. Our goal was to offer a selection that in itself might seem unexpected and forward-thinking. Together, they make for a well-rounded (and heavy) bookshelf that provides a smart approach to defining and executing innovation today.

Honorary Mention

Of course, there were also a slew of intriguing and truly thought-provoking books that crossed our desks that don't address the business concept of innovation directly but are worth mentioning. From the fragrance business to entertainment to science and marketing, some titles offered fresh thinking in specific areas, a useful exercise for anyone involved in innovation. These include The Perfect Scent: A Year Inside the Perfume Industry in Paris and New York by Chandler Burr; The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company by David Price; Science Lessons: What the Business of Biotech Taught Me About Management by Gordon Binder and Philip Bashe, and Tribes by Seth Godin.

It's been a difficult year for the book industry, which has seen its share of job cuts and consolidation. As major publishers such as Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and Penguin announced layoffs and salary freezes, and new ways of distributing books, such as Amazon's (AMZN) Kindle electronic reader, continue to alter the consumption of long-form information, the future seems uncertain. Still, what is unlikely to change—especially in a time of such uncertainty—is the need for innovative ideas and smart, fresh ways to explain them.

See BusinessWeek's list of the ten best innovation books of 2008.

Jana is the Innovation Dept. editor for BusinessWeek. Vella is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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