I read a lot in my new gig as Chief Innovation Fellow, reports, studies, memos, that kind of thing. Despite this, I spend an hour or two every most weeknights reading popular books about innovation.

I thought it might be useful to post a list of what books I’ve read since I’ve arrived. Over time, will add detailed thoughts about each book (right now, only cursory thoughts on a couple books). If there’s something missing from this list that you think I should read, please let me know!


Experimental Capitalism: The Nanoeconomics of American High-Tech Industries by Steven Klepper. Amazon.com description:

For much of the twentieth century, American corporations led the world in terms of technological progress. Why did certain industries have such great success? Experimental Capitalism examines six key industries — automobiles, pneumatic tires, television receivers, semiconductors, lasers, and penicillin — and tracks the highs and lows of American high-tech capitalism and the resulting innovation landscape. Employing “nanoeconomics” — a deep dive into the formation and functioning of companies — Steven Klepper determines how specific companies emerged to become the undisputed leaders that altered the course of their industry’s evolution.
Klepper delves into why a small number of firms came to dominate their industries for many years after an initial period of tumult, including General Motors, Firestone, and Intel. Even though capitalism is built on the idea of competition among many, he shows how the innovation process naturally led to such dominance. Klepper explores how this domination influenced the search for further innovations. He also considers why industries cluster in specific geographical areas, such as semiconductors in northern California, cars in Detroit, and tires in Akron. He finds that early leading firms serve as involuntary training grounds for the next generation of entrepreneurs who spin off new firms into the surrounding region. Klepper concludes his study with a discussion of the impact of government and the potential for policy to enhance a nation’s high-tech industrial base.
A culmination of a lifetime of research and thought, Experimental Capitalism takes a dynamic look at how new ideas and innovations led to America’s economic primacy.

My thoughts: This is the book I would recommend first to anyone interested in policy and innovation, despite the fact the final chapter is incomplete (Klepper passed awhile before he could finish the book). Does a fantastic job of researching and describing clustering effects in innovative industries.

The Politics of Innovation: Why Some Countries Are Better Than Others at Science and Technology by Mark Zachary Taylor. Amazon.com description:

Why are some countries better than others at science and technology (S&T)? Written in an approachable style, The Politics of Innovation provides readers from all backgrounds and levels of expertise a comprehensive introduction to the debates over national S&T competitiveness. It synthesizes over fifty years of theory and research on national innovation rates, bringing together the current political and economic wisdom, and latest findings, about how nations become S&T leaders. Many experts mistakenly believe that domestic institutions and policies determine national innovation rates. However, after decades of research, there is still no agreement on precisely how this happens, exactly which institutions matter, and little aggregate evidence has been produced to support any particular explanation. Yet, despite these problems, a core faith in a relationship between domestic institutions and national innovation rates remains widely held and little challenged. The Politics of Innovation confronts head-on this contradiction between theory, evidence, and the popularity of the institutions-innovation hypothesis. It presents extensive evidence to show that domestic institutions and policies do not determine innovation rates. Instead, it argues that social networks are as important as institutions in determining national innovation rates. The Politics of Innovation also introduces a new theory of “creative insecurity” which explains how institutions, policies, and networks are all subservient to politics. It argues that, ultimately, each country’s balance of domestic rivalries vs. external threats, and the ensuing political fights, are what drive S&T competitiveness. In making its case, The Politics of Innovation draws upon statistical analysis and comparative case studies of the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, Turkey, Israel, Russia and a dozen countries across Western Europe.

My thoughts: This would be the second book on innovation I would recommend. I find the “creative insecurity” theory quite fascinating, and Taylor makes a fantastic case for it.

The New Geography of Jobs by Enrico Moretti. Amazon.com description:

“A persuasive look at why some U.S. cities have prospered in recent decades while others have declined.” — Bloomberg Businessweek
We’re used to thinking of the United States in opposing terms: red versus blue, haves versus have-nots. But today there are three Americas. At one extreme are the brain hubs — cities like San Francisco, Boston, and Durham — with workers who are among the most productive, creative, and best paid on the planet. At the other extreme are former manufacturing capitals, which are rapidly losing jobs and residents. The rest of America could go either way. For the past thirty years, the three Americas have been growing apart at an accelerating rate. This divergence is one the most important developments in the history of the United States and is reshaping the very fabric of our society, affecting all aspects of our lives, from health and education to family stability and political engagement. But the winners and losers aren’t necessarily who you’d expect.
Enrico Moretti’s groundbreaking research shows that you don’t have to be a scientist or an engineer to thrive in one of the brain hubs. Carpenters, taxi-drivers, teachers, nurses, and other local service jobs are created at a ratio of five-to-one in the brain hubs, raising salaries and standard of living for all. Dealing with this split — supporting growth in the hubs while arresting the decline elsewhere — is the challenge of the century, and The New Geography of Jobs lights the way.
“Moretti has written a clear and insightful account of the economic forces that are shaping America and its regions, and he rightly celebrates human capital and innovation as the fundamental sources of economic development.” — Jonathan Rothwell, The Brookings Institution

My thoughts: This is the book I would read third. Moretti is the man when it comes to urban economics. Another great read about agglomeration effects.

The Smartest Places on Earth: Why Rustbelts Are the Emerging Hotspots of Global Innovation by Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker. Amazon.com description:

The remarkable story of how rustbelt cities such as Akron and Albany in the United States and Eindhoven in Europe are becoming the unlikely hotspots of global innovation, where sharing brainpower and making things smarter — not cheaper — is creating a new economy that is turning globalization on its head
Antoine van Agtmael and Fred Bakker counter recent conventional wisdom that the American and northern European economies have lost their initiative in innovation and their competitive edge by focusing on an unexpected and hopeful trend: the emerging sources of economic strength coming from areas once known as “rustbelts” that had been written off as yesterday’s story.
In these communities, a combination of forces — visionary thinkers, local universities, regional government initiatives, start-ups, and big corporations — have created “brainbelts.” Based on trust, a collaborative style of working, and freedom of thinking prevalent in America and Europe, these brainbelts are producing smart products that are transforming industries by integrating IT, sensors, big data, new materials, new discoveries, and automation. From polymers to medical devices, the brainbelts have turned the tide from cheap, outsourced production to making things smart right in our own backyard. The next emerging market may, in fact, be the West.

The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail by Clayton Christensen. Amazon.com description:

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, author Clayton M Christensen shows what the Honda Supercub, Intel’s 8088 processor, and hydraulic excavators have in common. They are all examples of disruptive technologies that helped to redefine the competitive landscape of their respective markets. These products did not come about as the result of successful companies carrying out sound business practices in established markets. Christensen shows how these and other products cut into the low end of the marketplace and eventually evolved to displace high-end competitors and their reigning technologies.
At the heart of The Innovator’s Dilemma is how a successful company with established products keeps from being pushed aside by newer, cheaper products that will, over time, get better and become a serious threat. Christensen writes that even the best-managed companies, in spite of their attention to customers and continual investment in new technology, are susceptible to failure no matter what the industry, be it hard drives or consumer retailing. Succinct and clearly written, The Innovator’s Dilemma is an important book that belongs on every manager’s bookshelf. — Harry C Edwards

My thoughts: I first read this over a decade ago, and thought I should revisit it. It’s the book that defined the term “disruptive innovations”.

The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics by John Judis. Amazon.com description:

What’s happening in global politics? As if overnight, many Democrats revolted and passionately backed a socialist named Bernie Sanders; the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union ; the vituperative billionaire Donald Trump became the presidential nominee of the Republican party; and a slew of rebellious parties continued to win elections in Switzerland, Norway, Italy, Austria, and Greece.
John B. Judis, one of America’s most respected political analysts, tells us why we need to learn about the populist movement that began in the United States in the 1890s, the politics of which have recurred on both sides of the Atlantic ever since. Populism, on both the right and the left, champions the people against an establishment, based on issues — globalization, free trade, immigration — on which there has been a strong elite consensus, but also a strong mass discontent that is now breaking out into the open.
The Populist Explosion is essential reading for our times as we grapple to understand the political forces at work here and in Europe.

My thoughts: The connection between “innovation” and “populism” isn’t obvious, but it’s one I described in our Canada 2020 report on innovation last year: “We then needed to consider how these ideas and the overall benefits of innovation can be communicated to the broader public. For too many Canadians, the word “innovation” means the automation that saw their job replaced by a robot, or the supply-chain innovations that cost them their job to a plant in China or Mexico.”

The Industries of the Future by Alec Ross. Amazon.com description:

The New York Times bestseller, from leading innovation expert Alec Ross, a “fascinating vision” (Forbes) of what’s next for the world and how to navigate the changes the future will bring.
While Alec Ross was working as Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Secretary of State, he traveled to forty-one countries, exploring the latest advances coming out of every continent. From startup hubs in Kenya to R&D labs in South Korea, Ross has seen what the future holds.
In The Industries of the Future, Ross provides a “lucid and informed guide” (Financial Times) to the changes coming in the next ten years. He examines the fields that will most shape our economic future, including robotics and artificial intelligence, cybercrime and cybersecurity, the commercialization of genomics, the next step for big data, and the impact of digital technology on money and markets. In each of these realms, Ross addresses the toughest questions: How will we have to adapt to the changing nature of work? Is the prospect of cyberwar sparking the next arms race? How can the world’s rising nations hope to match Silicon Valley with their own innovation hotspots? And what can today’s parents do to prepare their children for tomorrow?
Ross blends storytelling and economic analysis to show how sweeping global trends are affecting the ways we live. Sharing insights from global leaders — from the founders of Google and Twitter to defense experts like David Petraeus — Ross reveals the technologies and industries that will drive the next stage of globalization. The Industries of the Future is “a riveting and mind-bending book” (New York Journal of Books), a “must read” (Wendy Kopp, Founder of Teach for America) regardless of “whether you follow these fields closely or you still think of Honda as a car rather than a robotics company” (Forbes).

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice by Clayton Christensen. Amazon.com description:

The foremost authority on innovation and growth presents a path-breaking book every company needs to transform innovation from a game of chance to one in which they develop products and services customers not only want to buy, but are willing to pay premium prices for.
How do companies know how to grow? How can they create products that they are sure customers want to buy? Can innovation be more than a game of hit and miss? Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen and his co-authors Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, and David S. Duncan, have the answer. A generation ago, Christensen revolutionized business with his groundbreaking theory of disruptive innovation. Now, he goes further, offering powerful new insights.
After years of research, Christensen and his co-authors have come to one critical conclusion: our long held maxim — that understanding the customer is the crux of innovation — is wrong. Customers don’t buy products or services; they “hire” them to do a job. Understanding customers does not drive innovation success, he argues. Understanding customer jobs does. The “Jobs to Be Done” approach can be seen in some of the world’s most respected companies and fast-growing startups, including Amazon, Intuit, Uber, Airbnb, and Chobani yogurt, to name just a few. But this book is not about celebrating these successes — it’s about predicting new ones.
Christensen contends that by understanding what causes customers to “hire” a product or service, any business can improve its innovation track record, creating products that customers not only want to hire, but that they’ll pay premium prices to bring into their lives. Jobs theory offers new hope for growth to companies frustrated by their hit and miss efforts.
This book carefully lays down Christensen’s provocative framework, providing a comprehensive explanation of the theory and why it is predictive, how to use it in the real world — and, most importantly, how not to squander the insights it provides.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab. Amazon.com description:

World-renowned economist Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, explains that we have an opportunity to shape the fourth industrial revolu­tion, which will fundamentally alter how we live and work.
Schwab argues that this revolution is different in scale, scope and complexity from any that have come before. Characterized by a range of new technologies that are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, the developments are affecting all disciplines, economies, industries and governments, and even challenging ideas about what it means to be human.
Artificial intelligence is already all around us, from supercomputers, drones and virtual assistants to 3D printing, DNA sequencing, smart thermostats, wear­able sensors and microchips smaller than a grain of sand. But this is just the beginning: nanomaterials 200 times stronger than steel and a million times thinner than a strand of hair and the first transplant of a 3D printed liver are already in development. Imagine “smart factories” in which global systems of manu­facturing are coordinated virtually, or implantable mobile phones made of biosynthetic materials.
The fourth industrial revolution, says Schwab, is more significant, and its ramifications more profound, than in any prior period of human history.
He outlines the key technologies driving this revolution and discusses the major impacts expected on government, business, civil society and individu­als. Schwab also offers bold ideas on how to harness these changes and shape a better future — one in which technology empowers people rather than replaces them; progress serves society rather than disrupts it; and in which innovators respect moral and ethical boundaries rather than cross them. We all have the opportunity to contribute to developing new frame­works that advance progress.

The Wealth of Humans: Work, Power, and Status in the Twenty-first Century by Ryan Avent. Amazon.com description:

None of us has ever lived through a genuine industrial revolution. Until now.
Digital technology is transforming every corner of the economy, fundamentally altering the way things are done, who does them, and what they earn for their efforts. In The Wealth of Humans, Economist editor Ryan Avent brings up-to-the-minute research and reporting to bear on the major economic question of our time: can the modern world manage technological changes every bit as disruptive as those that shook the socioeconomic landscape of the 19th century?
Traveling from Shenzhen, to Gothenburg, to Mumbai, to Silicon Valley, Avent investigates the meaning of work in the twenty-first century: how technology is upending time-tested business models and thrusting workers of all kinds into a world wholly unlike that of a generation ago. It’s a world in which the relationships between capital and labor and between rich and poor have been overturned.
Past revolutions required rewriting the social contract: this one is unlikely to demand anything less. Avent looks to the history of the Industrial Revolution and the work of numerous experts for lessons in reordering society. The future needn’t be bleak, but as The Wealth of Humans explains, we can’t expect to restructure the world without a wrenching rethinking of what an economy should be.

Learning by Doing: The Real Connection between Innovation, Wages, and Wealth by James Bessen. Amazon.com description:

Technology is constantly changing our world, leading to more efficient production. In the past, technological advancements dramatically increased wages, but during the last three decades, the median wage has remained stagnant. Many of today’s machines have taken over the work of humans, destroying old jobs while increasing profits for business owners and raising the possibility of ever-widening economic inequality.
Author James Bessen argues that avoiding this fate will require unique policies to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to implement the rapidly evolving technologies. At present this technical knowledge is mostly unstandardized and difficult to acquire, learned through job experience rather than in classrooms. Nor do current labor markets generally provide strong incentives for learning on the job. Basing his analysis on intensive research into economic history as well as today’s labor markets, the author explores why the benefits of technology take years, sometimes decades, to emerge. Although the right policies can hasten this process, policy has moved in the wrong direction in recent decades, protecting politically influential interests to the detriment of emerging technologies and broadly shared prosperity.

The Great Convergence by Richard Baldwin. Amazon.com description:

From 1820 to 1990 the share of world income going to today’s wealthy nations soared from 20% to 70%. That share has recently plummeted. Richard Baldwin shows how the combination of high tech with low wages propelled industrialization in developing nations, deindustrialization in developed nations, and a commodity supercycle that is petering out.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed — and What to Do About It by Josh Lerner. Amazon.com description:

Silicon Valley, Singapore, Tel Aviv — the global hubs of entrepreneurial activity — all bear the marks of government investment. Yet, for every public intervention that spurs entrepreneurial activity, there are many failed efforts that waste untold billions in taxpayer dollars. When has governmental sponsorship succeeded in boosting growth, and when has it fallen terribly short? Should the government be involved in such undertakings at all? Boulevard of Broken Dreams is the first extensive look at the ways governments have supported entrepreneurs and venture capitalists across decades and continents. Josh Lerner, one of the foremost experts in the field, provides valuable insights into why some public initiatives work while others are hobbled by pitfalls, and he offers suggestions for how public ventures should be implemented in the future.
Discussing the complex history of Silicon Valley and other pioneering centers of venture capital, Lerner uncovers the extent of government influence in prompting growth. He examines the public strategies used to advance new ventures, points to the challenges of these endeavors, and reveals the common flaws undermining far too many programs — poor design, a lack of understanding for the entrepreneurial process, and implementation problems. Lerner explains why governments cannot dictate how venture markets evolve, and why they must balance their positions as catalysts with an awareness of their limited ability to stimulate the entrepreneurial sector.
As governments worldwide seek to spur economic growth in ever more aggressive ways, Boulevard of Broken Dreams offers an important caution. The book argues for a careful approach to government support of entrepreneurial activities, so that the mistakes of earlier efforts are not repeated.

Canadian Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy: The Innovation Economy and Society by Doern et. al. Amazon.com description:

Canadian Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy presents new critical analysis about related developments in the field such as significantly changed concepts of peer review, merit review, the emergence of big data in the digital age, and the rise of an economy and society dominated by the internet and information.
The authors scrutinize the different ways in which federal and provincial policies have impacted both levels of government, including how such policies impact on Canada’s natural resources. They also study key government departments and agencies involved with science, technology, and innovation to show how these organizations function increasingly in networks and partnerships, as Canada seeks to keep up and lead in a highly competitive global system. The book also looks at numerous realms of technology across Canada in universities, business, and government and various efforts to analyze biotechnology, genomics, and the Internet, as well as earlier technologies such as nuclear reactors, and satellite technology. The authors assess whether a science-and-technology-centred innovation economy and society has been established in Canada — one that achieves a balance between commercial and social objectives, including the delivery of public goods and supporting values related to redistribution, fairness, and community and citizen empowerment. .
Probing the nature of science advice across prime ministerial eras, including recent concerns over the Harper government’s claimed muzzling of scientists in an age of attack politics, Canadian Science, Technology, and Innovation Policy provides essential information for academics and practitioners in business and government in this crucial and complex field.

My thoughts: This is a great reference book on past Canadian policies on innovation. That said, it is incredibly dry and academic, so it’s not something you’d want to read for fun.

The world at work: Jobs, pay, and skills for 3.5 billion people by Dominic Barton et. al. Amazon.com description:

In this report, the McKinsey Global Institute explores the demand and supply drivers for global labor over next few decades and examines how demographics, labor supply, and skills are evolving around the world.

Open Data Now: The Secret to Hot Startups, Smart Investing, Savvy Marketing, and Fast Innovation by Joel Gurin:

Get unprecedented access to thousands of databases. It’s called Open Data, and it’s revolutionizing business.
The business leader’s guide to using Open Data to analyze patterns and trends, manage risk, solve problems — and seize the competitive edge
Two major trends — the exponential growth of digital data and an emerging culture of disclosure and transparency — have converged to create a world where voluminous information about businesses, government, and the population is becoming visible, accessible, and usable. It’s called Open Data, and this book helps leaders harness its power to market and grow their companies.
Open Data Now gives you the knowledge and tools to take advantage of this phenomenon in its early stages — and beat the competition to leveraging its many benefits.
Joel Gurin is an expert on making complex data sets useful in solving consumer problems, analyzing corporate information, and addressing social issues. He has collaborated with leaders in data, technology, and policy in the U.S. and UK governments, including officials in the White House and 10 Downing Street and at more than 20 U.S. federal agencies.

How to Run A Government: So that Citizens Benefit and Taxpayers Don’t Go Crazy by Michael Barber:

Billions of citizens around the world are frustrated with their governments. Why is this? And what can we do about it? In this groundbreaking book Michael Barber draws on his wealth of international experience advising political leaders, to show how those in power can make good on their promises.
‘Refreshingly ruthless … has an uplifting brio to it’ Economist
‘Michael Barber is a source of inspiration and wisdom’ Andrew Adonis, New Statesman
‘Excellent … there is a lot of common sense and practical wisdom … a breath of fresh air’ David Willetts,Standpoint
‘Barber is the global overlord of public policy … a record around the world of actually achieving change’ Philip Collins, Prospect

I think that’s enough for now… that’s only about half the books I’ve read on innovation since February. But it hits most of the big ones.