my recent reads..

The Myths of Innovation

I finally got hold of Scott Berkun's The Myths of Innovation last week and read it in a day. It's thoughtful, eye-opening and funny to boot (even a few hidden gems, like way down at the very bottom of the ranked bibliography we find: 0, The Art of Project Management, Scott Berkun!).

In ten compelling chapters, the realisation is that conventional wisdom concerning innovation has it all backwards. These are the myths exploded:
  • The myth of epiphany
  • We understand the history of innovation
  • There is a method for innovation
  • People love new ideas
  • The lone inventor
  • Good ideas are hard to find
  • Your boss knows more about innovation than you
  • The best ideas win
  • Problems and solutions
  • Innovation is always good

The wierd thing is that you can probably read the list above (without referring to the book), recognise the "common belief", but with a moments thought understand why it is a myth. The strange things our brains do to us! (more on this when I post my review of Jeff Hawkins excellent book On Intelligence)

I'd highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in how we innovate, or a job role that is somehow related. That should mean pretty much everyone! No wonder this book hit #4 on Amazon's Best of 2007.

If I had 20 days to solve a problem, I would take 19 to define it - Albert Einstein

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Writers [on Writing]

Writers [on Writing] is a collection of essays from the New York Times. There are 46 or so pieces by popular authors, that cover a diverse range of topics of interest to anyone who is going about the business of writing - perhaps skewed towards the novelist, but generally relevant to any kind of writer.

From stoking the fires of inspiration and maintaining motiviation, to methods for character and plot development, there are stories here for all aspects of the art.

I was particularly taken by Mary Gordon's Putting Pen to Paper, but Not Just Any Pen or Just Any Paper in which she describes her prediliction (maybe obsession is a better word) for having the correct writing instrument and notebook on hand. More than just comfort or convenience, this is about how certain tools can influence your state of mind and thus be conducive to certain work. Mary Gordon elevates this to a science: when contemplating a novel in three voices, each character had its own suitably matched notebook. I can certainly relate to this! I remember finding that I could only write and study chinese literature effectively with a certain kind of notebook with a light 5mm grid, and I had a similar fixation on yellow legal pads for essays in high school.

Obviously, Mary does not write using a computer, but it makes you wonder if there is an analogue for those that do? And I'm sure just changing your mouse pointer style doesn't do the trick. Stock up on a range of keyboards and mice? Or even different machines?

Picking up the theme of notebooks for geeks, Coté has an excellent discussion on selecting your Moleskin on the Sartorially Orientated Architects site. It's true .. this is very important topic!

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The Colditz Legacy

Guy Walters' The Colditz Legacy is an engaging read. For those of a certain age and cultural background, Colditz (and especially escape thereof) epitomises a grand Boy's Own tradition of daring and adventure. Walters picked a great backdrop for his story which features Colditz during WWII and 30 years on during the cold war. But this story is not about Colditz itself, but the two main characters; men thrown together during the war which each survived in their own way.

When I started the book, I assumed the "legacy" must mean something like nazi loot or some deep secret, but it is much more subtle. There is the idea that in our past we may have performed in way that meets all external, objective measures of approval but in our hearts is in some way unsatisfactory. This is the legacy we carry around, even subconsciously. Few may want or get the chance to revisit and rectify this conflict in their lifetime. This is the story of one man who does.

I like Guy Walters' writing. I'm sure this won't be the last book of his I read (in fact I have just picked up The Leader).

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Code Generation In Action

Jack Herrington's Code Generation in Action is a book I love to recommend for two reasons.

First, the very premise that we should make the most of the tools at our disposal to continuously strive to improve the efficiency and maintainability of software systems appeals to deep-set values, probably ingrained during my education as an Industrial Engineer with a focus on productive systems.

Second, the book's approach lays plain the author's thorough investigation of the subject such that we learn methods and patterns that transcend any particular technology while keeping the examples very much grounded in specific, real applications. Not many technology books manage to so carefully balance the academic/generic with the practical/cookbook. Although the examples will eventually become dated (such as generating EJB data access layers), the book will remain relevant for many years to come as a guide to a "way of thinking" rather than for the specific examples.

It is interesting to note that the book's use of ruby as the exemplary language nudges towards the convention over configuration ethos of rails. Database migrations in rails may not owe any direct lineage to the work of Harrington, but it is easy to see how they could have.

If you like reflecting on how you work with software in order to improve over time - in a sense to think about thinking - then this book will surely capture your imagination and perhaps lead you to a better place.

Postscript: I've blogged about the applicability of the concepts in the book to Oracle JDeveloper here.

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