Ebook review: Possible: A Guide for Innovation by William Barr

Today is the first Monday when everyone is back at work here in Denmark. Even the kids have gone back to school this morning. The sun is shining on a slightly crisp day and I took the chance to walk from central station Copenhagen to my office. The train ride in had been a little fuller than last week and the bustle around the station a bit more brisk. As I walked past the lakes the full force of the city started to wake up. There was a young girl crying at her mother to try and avoid the inevitable parting after weeks of time together. There was the return to the rat race as bicycles and people piled out of buildings without a thought. I even saw one cyclist crash in an untidy lump on one of the city’s excellent bike paths as he came upon a group going somewhat slower than he. Perhaps he felt that his presence, expensive bike and tour outfit would assist the more sedate paced travellers somehow become insubstantial. Perhaps he felt that they should know to get out of his way as he sped silently up behind them. Whichever the answer, it was a clear sign that the race is back on, in full force, and we rats are happy to crawl over every obstacle, barge into every pedestrian and suffer no impediment to get to work and forget the beauty of the city in the sunshine. But I digress once again, on with the show:

From the dust cover: “Business has just two functions: marketing and innovation. The new book Possible informs you about the “spirit of innovation” and gives you an intuitive feel for it using quotes and anecdotes from business legends like Thomas Watson (IBM), Sam Walton (Walmart), and Henry Ford. It stays interesting and informative by quoting a spectrum of famous people including Niccolo Machiavelli, Abraham Lincoln, and Thomas Edison.

Possible uses a breezy fast style, unabashedly entertaining, and briefly covering every aspect of the entire subject of innovation, allowing the reader to quickly re-read about an idea or technique and then go out and try it. Everyone with the power to change things in an organization can benefit from this book, which also discusses the latest idea in innovation called “open innovation.” Plus it gives you a list of specifics: the four basic ways ideas are used, 20 ways to measure innovation, 36 features of the corporate culture, and 21 techniques to develop ideas.

Author John Steinbeck said “the group never invents anything” pointing out that the birth of a new idea starts with the individual, and therefore Possible devotes one chapter to a basic look at the phenomena of psychological creativity, including 18 features of the creative personality. Use this handbook for innovation and discover everything that’s possible.”

My Ebook review: books on innovation are, rather ironically, rarely innovative in their own approach. This does not mean that they cannot be useful and filled with insights. William Barr’s book does not necessarily break the mould but it is a commendable work on this important subject.

In a sense Barr does a good job of arguing for a process approach towards the chaotic experience of innovation. The generality is that success comes from trial and error and therefore the more trials begets the more errors and with a capacity for learning from your errors and tweaking the more likely that something with come out right. In a sense, though, Barr also argues for the time and space to allow for reflection and to allow the mind’s powers to exert themselves.

What is most important and useful is the implicit understanding that there must be room for failures even though the only real failure is giving up. This book left me feeling that innovation is something we can all be a part of and all get involved in and that I could, can, should innovate; the book is not a mould breaker perhaps, but it does what it should and it does it rather well.

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