Books That Drive Practice Innovation

This year, I led the team that organized the first ever American Institute of Architects (AIA) Practice Innovation Lab, which was hosted in November by the AIA Young Architects Forum (comprised of architects who have been licensed for no more than 10 years). An open call went out to members and nonmembers, seeking those interested in advancing architectural practice to attend a one-day practice hackathon and a half-day pitch session. From the selected applicants, 10 teams of six were formed with the intent of creating innovative practice models. To establish the right mindset prior to the start of the sessions, we developed a curriculum focused on innovation creation that included these three books that I highly recommend.

Blue Ocean Strategy, Expanded Edition: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant
Written by W. Chan Kim and Renée Maubourgne, Blue Ocean Strategy (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) was required reading in the products and services class that was part of my MBA studies. The authors argue that a sea of cutthroat competition does nothing but create bloody waters. However, by tapping into new market spaces and creating “blue oceans,” organizations can achieve lasting success.

One of the more memorable case studies from the book looks at how Cirque du Soleil made going to the circus a date-night activity for adults while remaining family friendly. The development of the successful model also decreased overhead by eliminating the most expensive performers— the animals—even though they are what traveling circuses were historically known for.

Although it lacks images, the book is relevant for design professionals who are continually looking to find ways to improve how they deliver services to clients. What potential blue oceans are we overlooking that can make our practices more sustainable over the long term?

Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs
The book is a collective effort by Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn, and Helen Waters, all of whom have experience at Doblin, a global firm that helps leading organizations find human-centered solutions to business problems. Ten Types of Innovation (Wiley, 2013) creates a framework for organizations to identify and implement innovative opportunities. The book is full of colorful case studies and diagrams, and designers will appreciate the codification of an intangible concept such as innovation as well as the process that can be applied to its implementation.

In addition to real-life examples, the text contains many strategies that design firms can use to assess how innovation is approached internally, even at the project level, and how to innovate externally within a competitive environment. If you are short on time, jump ahead to part six, which describes how to make innovation a discipline and create breakthroughs in a risk-averse culture.

Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers
If you already have an idea that you would like to monetize, Business Model Generation (Wiley, 2010) by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur will help you understand whether the concept can be a true moneymaker. The authors’ business model canvas is a practical tool to design, test, create, and manage a new business model or to test an existing one. The book explains the most common business model patterns and enables the reader to reinterpret them for their own context. One case study examines the business model canvas that makes Google’s value proposition so strong. Co-created by more than 450 organizations from 45 countries, the book and its strategies are used regularly by service consultants, including Deloitte and Capgemini.

Each of these three books has supplementary digital content. Blue Ocean Strategy’s website has an entire section on teaching materials, multimedia cases, and interactive exercises that are in use at more than 2,800 universities worldwide. The Ten Types of Innovation app dives into 100 tactics to spur inspiration within a business and has step-by-step prompts for those who are used to following a thorough process or prefer utilizing a proven strategy. Business Model Generation’s website has course templates to test your ideas.