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THE INC. LIFE

5 Brilliant Non-Business Books That Will Make You Better at Thinking Outside the Box

Sometimes the best way to learn innovative approaches to innovation is to read something completely different.

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BY Stephen Shapiro - 13 May 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

If you want to be a better innovator, there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of great books on the topic.

But as I mentioned in an earlier article, expertise can be the enemy of innovation. The more you know about a topic, the harder it is for you to think differently about it. The solution? Look outside your industry or area of expertise.

The same is true with innovation.

If you want to be a better innovator, start reading books that have nothing to do with business or innovation.

Over the years I've had the pleasure of reading many non-business books that have shaped my views on innovation... and life.

Here are five that I recommend to anyone who is looking to look at the world differently.

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

This is one of my favorite book of all times. It is the autobiography of Richard Feynman, a Nobel-Prize winning physicist. He was a brilliant man who solved some of the most complex problems of our times. Fortunately, this book is not written for the Sheldon Coopers of the world (the nerdy character on Big Bang Theory who's a big Richard Feinman fan). This book can be enjoyed by anyone. It is about his antics doing interesting and unusual adventures such as becoming a safe cracker, studying the movement patterns of ants, and playing music in Brazil. Each chapter is a different story. Each story has a powerful lesson for innovators. And you will laugh at loud.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Long before Simon Sinek wrote about the importance of "why," Frankl wrote about the power of meaning. The first half if the book was written during his time in a concentration camp during World War II. He found that those who has meaning in their life had a better chance of surviving. Those who had no purpose gave up and withered away. These same principles apply to businesses and innovation. What's the meaning behind your work? For me, this was a life-changing book.

Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman

This is an incredibly clever book. It is the fictional story of Albert Einstein when he worked in the patent office. Every night when he went to sleep, he envisioned the universe through a different lens. What would it mean if the world was a circle, bending back on itself, repeating over and over? What would the world look like if it were a nightingale trapped by a bell jar? What if the world had no time, only images? The concept of lenses is a powerful one for all innovators to help them look at a problem with fresh eyes.

Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deceptions by Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde, and Sandra Blakeslee

I love magic and there is so much for innovators to learn from magicians, as I wrote in an earlier article. But this book was written by neuroscientists, not prestidigitators. It focuses on how magic fools the brain. In a nutshell, you can't believe what you see. The same is true for innovators. When running experiments, the brain may trick us. When developing new ideas, we may have blindspots preventing us from seeing truly exceptional solutions. By understanding these mechanisms, we can avoid some of the traps we tall into as innovators. Time to put a little magic in your innovations!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Growing up, one of my first literary loves was "Encyclopedia Brown" books by Donald Sobol. Encyclopedia Brown is a boy detective who solves mysteries in his neighborhood. As I grew older, I became a fan of Sherlock Holmes books. In some respects, I think I can trace my love for innovation to Sherlock Holmes. He solved challenging problems by questioning all assumptions. One of the quotes I love is, "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts." It describes a common mistake of innovators. We often get too attached to our ideas, and therefore ignore evidence that goes against our beliefs. This is why so many innovations fail. There's so much to learn from this master detective.

What other non-business books do you like for innovation?

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