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UBC7: Stuck for ideas? Read this!

I’ve been reading. It’ll be no great shock to anyone who knows me or indeed who has followed this blog over the years. The fact is, the demise of Borders merely made way for more time sitting in Costa downloading ebooks to the Kindle app on my iPad rather than sitting in Starbucks leafing through paper books But my latest read has been a “real” book. With hard covers no less!

I’ve been reading. It’ll be no great shock to anyone who knows me or indeed who has followed this blog over the years. The fact is, the demise of Borders merely made way for more time sitting in Costa downloading ebooks to the Kindle app on my iPad rather than sitting in Starbucks leafing through paper books 

But my latest read has been a “real” book. With hard covers no less!

It’s Jeff De Graff’s “Innovation You”—and in the spirit of disclosure I’ll state now that I was reading a review copy I received free from Jeff’s publicist.

Now, whenever I am asked to review books I always ask myself one simple question at the end. “Would I have bought this book if I hadn’t been given a review copy?” In the case of Innovation You, the answer is a resounding yes.

Jeff De Graff is a business school professor with real world experience: part of the team that grew Domino’s Pizza from a small regional operation to the global powerhouse it now is, he now combines the ivory towers of business school teaching with a successful consulting practice that works with some major global brands. 

And “Innovation You” is a great example of the kind of book every consultant should be writing to showcase their expertise and position themselves as the Natural Expert in their field. It’s what I call in my programs an “Expert Manifesto”, setting out clearly De Graff’s system and the results it can generate.

The book is about, believe it or not, innovation. More specifically the fact that different people different in different ways, and trying to fit into the "standard" definition and approach can leave many people feeling stuck and frustrated, and believing that they're just not one of life's innovators.

Now, innovation is critical in marketing yourself as an expert, selling your coaching, consulting or training, creatig your intellectual capital, and every other aspect of becoming the expert of choice for your market.

So this book was bound to appeal to me! 

The system Jeff proposes is pleasingly simple: a four step process for innovation and a short assessment that places the reader somewhere on a two-by-two grid giving four color-coded key styles or behavioural preferences. I’ve been using a similar 2×2 system in management training programmes for a couple of years now—the Behavioral Styles Profile from The Effectiveness Institute—but De Graff wisely avoids entering the already over-burdened world of management psychometrics (think MBTI, SDI, DISC, Kiersey, and a myriad others) and instead applies his model to innovation, a field with surprisingly little reflection of this sort.

There’s also a more in-depth (and still free) version of the test online at the book’s website, which gives the user a downloadable report (another great tool for owning a niche as the natural expert), and a paid version.

Underpinning the assessment is the reasonable assumption that there are more ways to innovate than the obvious “creative way”. In fact, many people who think of themselves as less-than-creative will be delighted to discover that there is a way they can leverage their natural way of thinking and behaving to generate ideas.

De Graff brings in examples from every industry: from car plant workers to realtors, from disillusioned corporate lawyers turning their back on the blue-chip straightjacket to pursue their passions in their own practice to dissolute drifters turning their life around to become lynchpins in the family business, from struggling would-be slimmers to C-suite directors in multinational corporations. The examples are clear and engaging, and unlike many business authors, he doesn’t fall into the trap of always giving us a happy ending: sometimes the world doesn’t bow down to the innovator’s whim, and De Graff shows examples of people dealing with real-life setbacks.

Along the way he pokes gentle fun at some of the nonsense we see in too many personal development books and sets out clear guidelines for keeping our finger on the pulse and thinking outside our own box as well as the ones companies and society put us into.

And there is one of the key things I like about this book: De Graff recognises that innovation doesn’t happen in a vacuum; we need to take into account the environment in which we are innovating, and think on (and adapt to) multiple levels, while staying true to ourselves. It’s why someone can wither as a corporate drone in one environment but flourish in another. It has nothing to do with the person, or their boss or team, or the company, or society at large, and everything to do with how the four interact and run interference on each other.

At one point De Graff tells us that he originally called his system the “competing values framework”, and therein lies the great conundrum of innovation. The more “gung ho” business writers view change as an all or nothing affair. You either get your people on board and everything goes swimmingly as if by magic, or you don’t and the whole change process stumbles to a halt. De Graff’s system recognises the compromise inherent in change, not just in terms of different people giving way on different priorities, but sometimes at a personal level, when we have to let go of one idea in order to implement another.

And so here’s another thing to like. De Graff shows how innovation isn’t just the preserve of the “creative” types. He shows how everyone, regardless of personality (or preference or style or values—whatever terminology you want to use), can draw on their natural tendencies to create innovation. Indeed he goes further, by encouraging us to approach innovation from the view of all four styles (which of course are within us all, even if we’ve done a good job of subjugating one or more of them!).

So who is the book for? Well, innovation is something that everyone can use. It’s needed on a personal level; it’s needed within teams and organisation, and it’s needed by society at large.

And therein lies the books strength and at the same time its greatest weakness. At heart it is a book on personal transformation.

But the examples come from across the board of how innovation can be applied. When I started reading the book, it felt solidly like a book about reinventing your professional life. Then half way through it started to feel more like a guide to strategic innovation. And later yet it became very much a self-help book. The examples take it back and forth between personal innovation and business innovation, and may leave the reader a little perplexed. But bear with it.

In the process of reading the book “for review purposes” I have to admit I filled several large pages, not with notes but with ideas for innovating in my own business. Ideas I would probably never have thought of because they aren’t in my natural innovation style.

So yes, I would have bought the book even if I hadn’t received a review copy, but also I’ll make the book obligatory reading for my coaching and mentoring clients, as well as the students on the business school entrepreneurship programmes I teach. De Graafs ideas on handling change will also probably make it into the management courses I teach for blue chip organisations.

Having set out the Innovation colors model, the book is crying out for a whole series of highly targeted sequels, with examples and stories to match: Innovation Career, anyone? Or how about Innovation Retirement? Innovation Start Up, Innovation Consulting, Innovation Strategy, the possibilities are endless. What about Innovation Accounting (as an antidote to the slightly suspect sounding creative accounting)? Even—who knows—Innovation Romance!

And Jeff, if you’re reading this, I’d love to collaborate on Innovation Marketing and Innovation Manager.

So that’s it. 

Go buy this book

Buy it for yourself then buy it for your clients and finally buy it for your significant other.


1 Comment

  1. added this to my reading list. Took the test, was pretty much on target.

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