Six Books Every Innovation Leader Should Read

For the last ten years, I’ve advised innovation leaders from companies in over a dozen industries.  In our sessions, we have discussed a variety of topics related to innovation including strategy, technology, cultural change, processes, and so on. Newly appointed innovation leaders rarely have a background with direct experience in innovation, so they are full of questions. 

Without fail, one of the first (and most common) questions I am asked after a session with new innovation leaders is: “What are some good innovation books to read?” 

Initially, my menu of recommendations was long. There are a lot of wonderfully written books out there that cover innovation. However, I’ve found myself sending the same six books every time. These books provide the best primer on the most fundamental concepts of innovation and help form a balanced perspective. Not all of them are explicitly about corporate innovation, but I’ve found that they will equip you to think like an innovation pro quickly.

Here's the list of 6 top innovation leader books:

#1 — Creative Construction

The DNA of Sustained Innovation

Author: Gary P. Pisano

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Innovation Leader Books, Creative Construction, Gary Pisano

Creative Construction is a comprehensive summary that defines the purpose of innovation in an established enterprise. It covers a wide range of topics, including innovation strategy (and how different it is from typical corporate strategy), portfolio management, and culture change, making it the best book to start with from my perspective. It also debunks a few commonly accepted myths about how innovation works. For example, Kodak is often used as an example of innovation failure. They really shouldn’t be, and this book will tell you why.

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. Good innovation is a series of small moves, not one big one.
  2. Successful companies take a systems approach to innovation.

#2 — Grow From Within

Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Authors: Robert C. Wolcott, Michael J. Lippitz

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Innovation Leader Books, Grow From Within, Robert C. Wolcott, Michael J. Lippitz

Grow from Within emphasizes that innovation doesn’t happen without people – and people need a clear structure to operate within in order to succeed. “Anything is possible” looks great on a banner, but is very difficult to practically apply. This book helps readers grasp the importance of equipping internal entrepreneurs with a clear definition for innovation in the context of the company’s strategy, a consistent way to characterize new opportunities, and an organizational structure that amplifies their efforts to their full potential. 

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. Innovation is about more than product; it's about creating value.
  2. Leaders must choose innovation models that fit their aspiration.

#3 — The Wide Lens

What Successful Innovators See That Others Miss

Author: Ron Adner

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Innovation Leader Books, The Wide Lens, Ron Adner

The Wide Lens focuses in on the complexity of players that make innovation work. Many innovations look world-changing in a lab, but fall flat when launched publicly – and leaders are left shocked. Why? This book helps you break down the entire map of contributors that play a role in a company’s innovation successes. Innovation leaders must understand that successful innovation is not just about ideas – deployment and coordination are just as essential. 

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. Competitors can become collaborators, and vice versa. 
  2. Adoption is what turns an invention into an innovation. 

#4 — Discovery-Driven Growth

A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity

Authors: Rita Gunther McGrath, Ian MacMillan

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Innovation Leader Books, Grow From Within, Discovery Driven Growth, Rita Gunther McGrath, Ian McMillan

Discovery-Driven Growth is a brilliantly written book from one of the most thoughtful minds on innovation. Big companies are big because they are great at executing a plan. However, innovation isn’t a project to be managed like typical projects. The work of innovation is full of uncertainties that often kill new initiatives. Rita and Ian explain how to retain support and build consensus around new ideas by rigorously resolving assumptions to build believable solutions.

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. Organizations are naturally risk averse, don’t try to change that.
  2. You must create believability in each idea, through validation.

#5 — Profit from the Core

A Return to Growth in Turbulent Times

Authors: Chris Zook, James Allen

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Innovation Leader Books, Profit From The Core, Chris Zook, James Allen

Profit from the Core makes the salient and compelling point that there is a lot of innovation that can happen within an existing business and its current operating structure. Too often, innovation leaders start blazing new trails outside of the core business and forget to look for quick wins with existing assets. Incremental innovation doesn’t make headlines, but it does accumulate over time to significant impact. Especially in tumultuous times, working with what you already know is a powerful strategy.

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. With a few tweaks, the “outdated” can become transformational.
  2. It is possible to overextend your bets and erode future prospects.

#6 — The Granularity of Growth

How to Identify the Sources of Growth and Drive Enduring Company Performance

Authors: Patrick Viguerie, Sven Smit, Mehrdad Baghai

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Innovation Leader Books, The Granularity of Growth, Patrick Viguerie, Sven Smit, Mehrdad Baghai

The Granularity of Growth challenges common convention that declining industries are poor areas to invest. Through extensive research, the authors make a convincing case that in many declining markets, there are “pockets” of opportunities that are rapidly growing and ripe for innovation. Innovation leaders revitalize sleepy businesses within the core by making savvy investments in areas that competitors have abandoned and create amazing outcomes.

Two Most Important Concepts:

  1. There are often areas of opportunity within a declining category.
  2. The future often comes through the established vs. from outside.


All six of these books will equip you with a systems understanding of innovation, a model that fits your aspiration, an ecosystem perspective, a cheap way to mitigate risk, a respect for the core business, and a curiosity to look where no one is looking. All of these combined should help give you confidence as you begin your journey of leading innovation – you can do it, and you can do it well.

(For more on how to navigate your first two years as an innovation leader, read our Innovation Journey series here →)

For the overachievers... Here are an additional six books that expand beyond the fundamentals, and will help make you a true innovation ninja.

Six Books Every Innovation Leader Should Read

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