In this book review Paul Hobcraft looks at “Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire- a Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose” by Braden Kelley, published by Wiley.

I have been reviewing Braden Kelley’s “Stoking your Innovation Bonfire” and I get a real sense of a number of contradictions in the book that actually are healthy when it comes to describing innovation and providing solutions. Braden does a good job of weaving together in a nicely structured way, advice on knocking down many of the innovation barriers that exist and constrain innovation.

My opening struggle

I have to be honest, I struggled within his first three chapters on “setting the stage” but the book really did come alive as I got further into his two other sections –“the innovation engine” and “the organization”.

Why did the opening arguments in the first section of the book, “setting the stage,” not work for me but that might be a personal thing? It was an immediate dive into examples around the three big themes of blockage: vision, strategy & goal. I was ‘cold,’ not yet warmed up as much I would have liked and although these three opening chapters had attractive headings “blinded by the light” for vision, “peering in the dark” for strategy and “setting the course blindfolded” for goal blockages, they were dealt with in only 31 pages and I felt these chapters just skimmed the subjects a little too lightly although they certainly provide good illustrations of practices. Although his examples tied in nicely to the three big, ‘must resolve’ blockages, I think I needed a bigger build, association and context to set my ‘stage’ and the context  more. There is an awful lot hindering innovation but Braden’s approach might be exactly the right one, dive straight in and provide immediate guidance.

The real heart of the book- “the Innovation Engine” shifted up a couple of gears.

Whereas the heart of the book- the real value for me- was his next section, “the Innovation Engine”. This had a real stamp of the author in how he approached each of the chapters and dealing in really practical ways the blockages and problems. In forty odd pages Braden packed in some really good thoughts and gives solutions that turned the book from a useful to have into a valuable book to refer to.

The book is a concise read

The book is concise, only offering 123 pages within his chapters, which I feel is a little light by 50 odd pages from the norm. There might have been real value in ‘fleshing’ out some emerging thoughts or themes more. The short chapters though are ideal for fast readers, chapters you can read quickly, absorb the key takeaway messages and embed those into your own innovation thinking. The book has lots of headings so you can quickly mark a relevant point, flag or highlight the issues that strike you as helping to solve your own blockages. The book uses case studies well to illustrate certain points or help you to relate more. It uses sparingly some thoughtful and effective figures or visuals that aid where necessary the point being made. Finally I liked Braden’s introduction to each chapter with a Key Dangers summary, useful to refer to and cross-relate with the chapter messages.

There is a simple and effective clarity in Braden’s explanations, he avoids jargon and writes in an easy, readable style.

My greatest takeaway lies in Chapter 4

The book makes a really compelling case for trend spotting, behaviours and the need to make insights a real core of your business, more so than ideas. He separates three different pursuits to identify insights and I really liked the value of this suggestion. He argues “insights and execution are the most important ingredients for creating innovation” and suggests as innovation moves front and centre the quality of these two aspects will separate the winners from the losers. This chapter 4 really gave me value. I wanted more.

Insights versus ideas- one of those conflicting dilemmas

I really wished a few times Braden had not reverted back to ideas and stuck with insights, as there are already many books focusing on ideas. Instead of expanding on insights, he goes on to explore idea generation in the very next chapter (chapter 5), but he does pull my disappointment on this point back, by offering in chapter 6 some useful checklists for idea evaluation. These include saying “no” in the right way (I liked this) and the importance of “not now”. These were great insights and his take on idea management was very helpful, so it went someway to offsetting my need for more on the insight part. Again really useful to read and embed in my thinking on idea evaluation. That part on insights (pages 48 to 52) though, made a real difference for me and gave me some need for deeper thinking on this for my future work.

Part three of the book- the Organization

When you start off with the challenge “Have you had an innovation lobotomy” (chapter 8) it makes for grabbing your attention. Braden talks of different tensions and again introduces his take on the hierarchy of needs (Gary Hamel’s take) as something that holds further promise, which he calls the innovation framework. It points out that if you don’t master the lower levels of the hierarchy and see these only as commodities then your innovation initiatives will flounder. As the model stands I’m not sure it fully works but I would like to see this expanded upon as it holds a good promise, again I wanted more ‘meat on the bone’ here.

His last two chapters discuss informational, structural and sustainability blockages. Big issues covered in only 24 pages; again this is light in my view. I think this added further weight to the value of those additional 50 odd pages that should have been added within a number of chapters to expand often on his insightful thinking about different aspects of innovation and the barriers.

In chapter 10,  Braden’s ‘organization ecosystem’ gave me some sparks on thinking I am presently doing, around Business model innovation, and I also liked his ‘passion versus obsession’ section.

Eventually I certainly had some stoking up of my own innovation bonfire.

So after the initial slow burn in his opening chapters I did get some really good ‘heat’ out of Brendan’s ideas and suggestions.  Braden I gather is planning to write a further book, I think there are many aspects that lie just under the surface in this book that would make for really interesting topics to explore.

My criticisms of the book

Certainly the book is light on pages, Braden tried to fit much between the two covers of the book by his own admission but it was a pity he stopped writing a little earlier than I would have liked

He has plans to add all of the great stuff he did not get into this book in an interactive web site I can’t see this yet emerging but perhaps it has merged into his other website- this would be a further pity.

Braden finished the book with three appendixes- Customer Exploration & Visual Frameworks and the Innovation Bakers Dozen. They are useful and provide guidance to help craft parts of your strategy and goals but I think somehow they all could have been placed in the Innovation Engine chapters.

Finally the promise to come and where this book can lead any of us.

Braden, as many might know, has built up his own Blogging Innovation website in a very short time into a leading site to refer to. He combines this passion with numerous other innovation activities of consulting, attends innovation conferences to twitter upon, meets up with an ever growing set of innovation thinkers and speaks on the subject. His goal with Blogging Innovation is to make innovation thought leadership accessible for the greater good and gains enormously from managing this insight to develop many future possibilities in his writing or collaborations.

Braden’s opening book “Stoking your innovation bonfire” gives a great foretaste of what could potentially come out of his innovation pursuits, as a great opening example of what stoking any innovation bonfire is all about- insights and execution. This book will certainly give you fresh  understandings in helping you in your own innovation challenges.

By Paul Hobcraft

About the author

Paul Hobcraft is the founder of Agility Innovation Specialists that focuses on Innovation exclusively through research and consulting. Paul spends much of his time between Asia and Europe bridging East & West in cultural and innovation understanding, after living for 16 years in Asia until 2008. He has been in general management in a number of multinationals dealing primarily with start ups, turnarounds and restructures. He holds an MBA from Henley Management College, UK. His present research involves 35 different innovation themes including: the dynamics & fitness landscaping for innovation; sustaining institutional capability for innovation focusing on climate, culture with the emphasis on renewal, impact, & catalysing innovation; the required social systems, context, capability & competence building. Paul is presently located in Switzerland but maintains a base also in Singapore.