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I wanted to read this book because I consider myself an innovator, and I wanted to see if the book's author, through the insights of his words, agrees. While reading the book, I kept thinking about a good friend of mine, Roger Walker (developer of the best spam control solution I've ever used), who I consider an innovator, and whose experiences parallel discussions the author presented. If you don't mind a bit of a long review, I'd like to relate these myths (each is a chapter) to discussions I had with Roger and how his life relates to the book. (And note that the book covers much more material and detail than is mentioned here.)

The Myth of Epiphany - We seem to be fascinated by "Aha!" moments and assume that people simply get a good idea, but the truth is that it's simply easier to define an innovation that way. The "Aha!" moment may be when the innovation falls into place, but it is built on a lot of work and possibly a lot of other innovations that happened earlier. Roger tells me, "My spam control solution was not the result of a light bulb going off in my head. I had a client with a real problem, and I needed a way to solve it. A path had to be built from the problem to the solution, and that only happens with a lot of hard work. Ideas are easy, but implementation requires effort. I still solve many problems while I dream at night. My brain keeps working on solutions even when I'm not doing it conciously.

We Understand the History of Innovation - It is said that history is written by the winners. It's also something that is affected by the act of recording it. We like our history to be clean, with things happening at easily identifyable points, not spread all across time. When I asked Roger when he got the idea for EVS Mail, he said, "Everyone wants me to pin down a specific date, but the truth is that it only came together after a lot of observation and work. If I give you a date, it's only a convenience for discussion." History lies.

There is a Method for Innovation - We need to understand that there is no specific method for innovating. The best we can do is follow methods that create the environment for innovation. Roger says, "I only work when I know I can be productive. The more I work in such an environment, the more ideas and solutions come together for me. Sometimes I select the problems to solve, and other times, they are selected by circumstance. If I need a solution and I can't get it from someone else, I am more apt to innovate due to necessity."

People Love New Ideas - You would think so, but it often depends on who you are (in relation to the new idea) and what you've been conditioned to think. Roger tells me, "My competitors obviously stand to lose business if my 'better way' gains momentum. They even mislead people into thinking that what I do for clients on a regular basis is impossible - I had one fellow roll his eyes when I made my claim, even though I could easily prove it to him with a short explanation and demonstration!" But, Roger, what if someone else came along with an even better innovation than yours? "If I couldn't incorporate it into my service, I might not like it, but I'll deal with it if and when it happens."

The Lone Inventor - Roger tends to innovate in isolation. Or does he? "I work almost exclusively by myself. But I couldn't do it without there being computers and email, first. When it comes to specific spam control ideas, I often reject what I see because it is incompatible with what I am doing, or less than useful. Occasionally I find something that is potentially useful, and I make my own improvements to it. But not all ideas are strictly my own. Even when I came up with the idea for Challenge/Response [NO LONGER USED], others were doing the same on their own. And even though some have claimed patents for it, they are pre-dated by the military 'Who goes there?' that we see in classic movies."

Good Ideas are Hard to Find - Actually, creativity researchers tell us that we all have the capacity to innovate. The problem is that innovation is incompatible with orderliness, and orderliness is what makes society work together. Can you imagine trying to control a company when everyone was off innovating their own thing? Roger notes, "When I was working strictly for someone else, much of what I did was just rote. My spam control project was completely different - I had complete freedom to pursue any direction I wanted, and it paid off."

Your Boss Knows More About Innovations than You Do - Managers need to manage, and those skills are not (usually) compatible with innovation. Roger's statement from the last paragraph applies equally, here - freedom, rather than someone else's control, is better for innovation.

The Best Ideas Win - We all know that in a world without limits, there's no place for 'windows or gates.' And if you follow that subtle play on words, you realize that marketing, politics, and other external forces are also at play. "Yes, I think my idea is the best, and my service is successful, but only for the relatively small number of clients who actually use it. It's difficult to compete in such a saturated industry, but business is growing," Roger tells me.

Problems and Solutions - Innovation is using an idea to solve a problem. Did Da Vinci innovate with his idea for the helicopter? No, because certain things were not in place first. Getting a better keyboard layout to be adopted (Dvorak) is difficult because of the momentum already in place with the QWERTY layout. What about with spam control? "The absolute best solution would be to revamp or replace SMTP completely. Good luck! Cost would be prohibitive, not to mention the coordination effort. To gain acceptance, any innovation in this area has to be compatible with SMTP. My solution is, and doesn't depend on what anyone or everyone else is doing."

Innovation is Always Good - Whether it is or not is more accurately in the eye of the beholder. Most, if not all, innovations have a light and a dark side. Roger tells me, "I'm always getting approached by marketers who want me to help them get their spam through everyone else's defences. While I can do so, I would never do so in such a way as to compromise my clients' ability to control what they receive. Yes, there is legitimate unrequested email, but it must always be up to the recipient as to whether it is legitimate or not."

If you've kept with me this far, congratulations! You, too, can be an innovator. Berkun's book is great for exploring all angles, including the pitfalls, of innovation. I rank it up there with two other books that complement each other and this one, "Think and Grow Rich" by Napoleon Hill, and "The 80/20 Principle - The Secret to Success by Achieving More With Less" by Richard Koch. Master the information in all three books and you could be in line for the next Nobel Prize, unh, after me, of course...

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