Book Review: Mapping Innovation

  |   Books Print Friendly and PDF

Finally! There’s a book about innovation that I can recommend to other people without reservation. It’s Greg Satell’s Mapping Innovation: A Playbook for Navigating in a Disrupting Age. That’s a pretty strong statement, so let me elaborate.

Back in the 1990s, a major oil company engaged me as part of a team to develop a course on innovation and creativity. As a part of that project, I took a deep dive into the research on both of those terms, as well as most of the business literature. The research was often insightful, but most of the business books got it wrong.

Many books treated innovation and creativity as the same thing. They’re not. Creativity is generating new ideas. Innovation is combining and modifying ideas to come up with ways to do things better. There’s more in my post, “A Creativity and Innovation Catechism.”

Others perpetuated the intertwined myths of the lone genius and single flashes of inspiration. Still others offered their “secrets” of innovation. According to them, if you took these four steps, or had these three beliefs, or chanted these special words on a night when the moon was full, there would be innovation, and everyone would be happy. Other books treated innovation as the single thing that would make any business or person successful.

I’m just a humble preacher’s boy trying to make his way in the world, but none of that made sense to me when I read the research or looked around in the world. For years, I thought I might write the great book about innovation. Now I don’t have to.

My first experience of Greg Satell’s writing was his blog, Digital Tonto. His blog posts always seemed to be well-researched and superbly written. That’s true of the book, too. Here’s a look at how the book is structured.

Early in the book, Satell lays out the three purposes of his book. Here they are, in his words.

“The purpose of this book is threefold. First, it will help you get a better understanding of innovation by dispelling destructive innovation myths. Innovations don’t happen just because someone comes up with one big idea. It takes many ideas to solve an important problem, and that requires a collective effort.

Second, this book will give you valuable tools to help you frame the problems that are important to you. As you will see, it is only by framing problems effectively that you can find the approach most likely to solve them. Finally, it will help explain how innovation in the digital age is different from what it was in previous generations. Simply put, technology has given us powerful new tools, and we need to learn how to use them effectively.”

Part one is about how innovation really happens. The two chapter titles tell you what he covers. “Innovation Is Never a Single Event” and “Innovation Is Combination.” This is the myth-busting section, where Satell sets up the various common misunderstandings about innovation so that he can knock them down with both reasoning and historical examples. In addition to the lessons about innovation, you’ll learn lots about famous innovators, such as Albert Einstein, and why they were as productive as they were. Expect some surprises.

Part two is “Mapping the Innovation Space.” This is the core of the book, and there is an amazing amount of interesting, insightful, and helpful material here. This is where you’ll find the Innovation Matrix that classifies different kinds of innovation based on how well the problem and domain are defined. That matrix results in definitions and descriptions of four kinds of innovation: Basic Research; Breakthrough Innovation; Sustaining Innovation; and, Disruptive Innovation.

You’ll pick up the basic point that depending on only one kind of innovation in your company is probably a bad idea. But one of the real strengths of this book is that each of the definitions and descriptions ties the book to practical applications and other models. You not only learn what different kinds of innovation are and how they have and can be applied, you’re also introduced to helpful tools to help make it happen. An example is the description of the Lean Launchpad in the section on Disruptive Innovation.

The third part of the book is “Innovation for The Digital Age.” Satell takes a good look at what’s changing and what that means for innovation and innovation strategies. You may not agree with all his reasoning or conclusions here, but, like the rest of the book, they are well-researched, thoughtful, and clearly expressed.

In a Nutshell

This is the best book I’ve read on innovation in business. Greg Satell does a first-rate job of covering basic ground about innovation and innovation myths. Then he does two things that add special value and make the book unique. The Innovation Matrix gives you a quick way to sort out what kind of situation you’re facing, then the book describes tools and activities to use with different challenges. You’ll read about familiar tools, where they fit, and how to use them to great effect. Satell wraps up Mapping Innovation with a reasoned and insightful sketch of how he thinks innovation will change in the years ahead. There are plenty of great resons to read Mapping Innovation.

Other Resources

If you’re in business and you haven’t yet found “the book,” on creativity that makes a difference in your life and work, check out Creativity in Business by Michael Ray and Rochelle Myers. It’s full of good stuff. You won’t just find things about business, you’ll find some other things that may help you in other aspects of life. That’s a bonus.


What’s the fastest way to learn the big ideas from a great business book? Book summaries. Check out summaries from The Business Source, where you can watch, read, or listen to the big ideas from a great book in under 20 minutes.

The 347 tips in my ebook can help you Become a Better Boss One Tip at a Time.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

There are no comments yet, why not be the first to leave a comment?