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8 of the best books on innovation

“Some books should be tasted, some devoured, but only a few should be chewed and digested thoroughly.” Sir Francis Bacon

Thursday 7 March marked the 21st World Book Day; a moment to celebrate reading in all its thought-provoking glory. Although the UK event generally focuses on encouraging young people to read, the day itself was originally designed to pay tribute to authors and publishing, while encouraging everyone, old and young, to pick up a book. With this in mind, we’ve pulled together a list of our favourite innovation reads. Have a browse of our list and let us know your favourites - or the ones we've missed - in the comments below.

1. Think Small: The Surprisingly Simple Ways to Reach Big Goals

By Owain Service,‎ Dr Rory Gallagher, April 2017 (Michael O'Mara Books)

‘Think Small’ is an accessible toolkit that helps people make small changes that stick. The Behavioural Insights Team [a social purpose company part-owned by Nesta] are recognised around the world for helping governments innovate by trialing different nudges to prompt citizens into new ways of acting or spending - like paying tax bills on time, or taking more exercise. This book offers a summary of their most famous trials and results, to help the reader get to grips with how to apply this innovation method to their own life goals - framed as a self help book. Easy to pick up and read a section at a time, but it does make you feel slightly guilty if you don't get on and nudge yourself towards life improvement! Vicki Sellick, Executive Director of Programmes

2. The Innovation Blind Spot: Why We Back the Wrong Ideas―and What to Do About It

By Ross Baird, September 2017 (BenBella Books)

Current innovation processes and investment are structured from the top down, not where those who are best placed to create sustainable innovation and to drive successful change are. Founder of Village Capital, Ross Baird, argues that we have several blind spots when it comes to innovation: how we pick which ideas to support, how and where we find innovation, and why we invest in ideas. He argues that current practice is worsening deep divides and missing out on the best ideas, entrepreneurs and innovations. ‘The Innovation Blind Spot’ is a must read for anyone who is committed to the democratisation of funding and innovation. Kate Sutton, Inclusive Economy Lead, Innovation Programmes

3. WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us

By Tim O'Reilly, October 2017 (Random House)

Many people feel uneasy about the direction technology is taking, from new digital business models that leave workers more vulnerable, to the many and varied proposed applications of AI. In ‘WTF?: What's the Future and Why It's Up to Us’, O'Reilly highlights the big (and sometimes unexpected) questions we really should be asking about the future of tech, how we shape it, regulate it, and ensure it has the values we want for business, government and society. Eddie Copeland, Director of Government Innovation

4. When the State Meets the Street: Public Service and Moral Agency

By Professor Bernardo Zacka,September 2017 (Harvard University Press)

Public policy consists of rules and regulations, but its implementation depends on how street-level bureaucrats interpret them and exercise discretionary judgment. These workers are expected to act as sensible moral agents in a working environment that is notoriously challenging and that conspires against them. This is a fascinating, if occasionally dense, look into the moral complexity of decision-making at the coalface of public services. It explains the tensions that officials must constantly balance and the pathologies that arise when they get the balance wrong. This is a useful read for anyone wanting to think about how we design services for citizens, as well as the rules and policies to support effective decision-making on the front line. Brenton Caffin, Executive Director, Global Innovation Partnerships

5. The Growth Delusion: The Wealth and Well-Being of Nations

By David Pilling,January 2018 (Bloomsbury Publishing)

In ‘The Growth Delusion’, journalist David Pilling offers a compelling case for why our obsession with economic growth, and our commitment to GDP as an indicator of everything that we value, is bad for all of us. For example, GDP measures gambling but not volunteering, financial speculation but not the value of nature. In other words, it ignores most of what matters to societies. He argues that policymakers, researchers and statisticians need to start thinking seriously about developing broader measures of prosperity and wellbeing. But this won't be easy as there is little agreement about what makes people happy and prosperous. That's why one of the most important ideas in this book is that deciding how we measure wellbeing, progress and prosperity in our societies shouldn't be left to the professionals. Instead, governments should attempt to start a public debate about what they should measure. This conversation will be messy and difficult, but it is a necessary step in, breaking free from the cult of economic growth. This advice is also relevant to policymakers who are starting to think about the goals of innovation policy. They would benefit from a much better understanding of what those outside of professional circles think innovation policy should aim to achieve. Tom Saunders, Principal Researcher, Inclusive Innovation

6. Capitalism Without Capital: The Rise of the Intangible Economy

By Jonathan Haskel and‎ Stian Westlake, October 2017 (Princeton University Press)

‘Capitalism Without Capital’ draws on years of research - some of it supported and undertaken at Nesta - aiming to understand and measure the intangible economy: everything from inventions to brands, software to designs. Mainstream economics grew up in an era when most economic activity was physical - growing food or manufacturing cars and ships. As the economy has become much more immaterial, economics has struggled to keep up. The authors show the key facts - including that intangible investment is now greater than tangible investment in the UK and US, and that the majority of the most valuable firms in the world today - like Apple or Google - are based much more on intangible than tangible assets. They also look at the implications for policy and for some of the bigger trends in the world, like widening inequality. Geoff Mulgan, Chief Executive

7. Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist

By Kate Raworth, April 2017 (Random House)

One of last year's most important books on (fixing) economics, Kate Raworth argues that mainstream economics' obsession with endless growth has created a society bound to grow ever more unequal; far out-producing and consuming our planet's limited resources. ‘Doughnut Economics’ makes a clear case for why where we are today is not where we should be, and also lays out a very compelling (and accessible) vision for an alternative economy which does “meet the needs of all within the means of the planet”. I particularly enjoyed the book's many concrete policy suggestions and interventions - leaving me hopeful and energised to think about new alternatives, rather than the sense of despair I usually feel when reading about climate change. Katja Bego, Data Scientist

8. Economics for the Common Good

By Jean Tirole, translated by Steven Rendall, October 2017 (Princeton University Press)

Jean Tirole, Nobel Prize for Economics in 2014, mounts a compelling and accessible defence of economics as a discipline that has much to contribute to the common good. In it, he explains what economists do, how they think, and and why they use mathematical models to analyse society, introducing key concepts from the research frontier that are advancing our understanding of complex issues, ranging from climate change to the impact of automation and the growth of internet platforms. By the time you finish the book, you will have a handle on how economists think, and appreciate how this thinking can help tackle some of the big challenges of our time. Juan Mateos-Garcia, Head of Innovation Mapping

And something a bit different …

The Dispossessed

By Ursula Le Guin, 1974

Innovators create new futures, and science fiction writers imagine how these futures would feel. Ursula K Le Guin, who recently passed away, was one of the best. In 'The Dispossessed', she tells us the story of Shevek, a scientist who travels between two worlds organised in completely different ways: Anarres, an anarchist society that has abolished private property and even the family unit, and Urras, a rich, highly unequal world. Perceptive Shevek experiences the highs and lows of both worlds, learning a lesson now more relevant than ever: while utopias don't exist, and simple solutions to societal problems are a mirage, we still can and should, through our decisions and sacrifices, continue working towards a better society. Juan Mateos-Garcia, Head of Innovation Mapping

Read Geoff Mulgan, Nesta Chief Executive’s own recent addition to the innovation landscape. In ‘Big Mind: How Collective Intelligence Can Change Our World’ he explores how collective intelligence has to be consciously organised and orchestrated in order to harness its powers. Read more.

Author

Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Tom Saunders

Principal Researcher

Tom is a Principal Researcher in the inclusive innovation team. His current work focuses on technology and inequality. He has lead a number of partnerships with governments, the UN a...

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Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Inclusive Economy Lead, Innovation Programmes

Kate is responsible for managing Nesta's work on the inclusive economy. Her team run the Inclusive Economy Partnership which is an innovative partnership between government, civil so...

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Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Geoff Mulgan

Chief Executive Officer

Geoff Mulgan has been Chief Executive of Nesta since 2011. Nesta is the UK's innovation foundation and runs a wide range of activities in investment, practical innovation and research.

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Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Katja Bego

Data Scientist

Katja is a data scientist in the technology futures and explorations teams at Nesta. Her work focuses on using novel data sources and techniques to identify and analyse emerging tech...

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Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Juan Mateos-Garcia

Director of Innovation Mapping

Juan leads a team of data scientists, developers, visualisers and innovation experts who use new datasets, analytics methods and visualisation tools to inform innovation policy.

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Brenton Caffin

Brenton Caffin

Brenton Caffin

Executive Director, Global Innovation Partnerships

Brenton is Nesta’s Executive Director, Global Innovation Partnerships, leading Nesta's work globally to help people and organisations get better at innovating for the common good.

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Eddie Copeland

Eddie Copeland

Eddie Copeland

Director of Government Innovation

Eddie Copeland is Nesta's Director of Government Innovation, responsible for leading projects concerning city data analytics, behavioural insights, digital government, collaborative ...

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Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Executive Director of Programmes

Vicki is an Executive Director at Nesta, responsible for the foundation's grant making function.

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