Breakthrough Recommended Books

Breakthroughs! by P. Ranganath Nayak

This is the story about the people and companies behind fourteen of the most successful 20th century commercial breakthroughs: the VCR, the Post-it note, ChemLawn, Tagamet, the Walkman, The CAT Scanner, the microwave oven, Toyota manufacturing system, Nike, Nautilus, propylene, Federal Express, Club Med, and the compact disk.]

The authors, who were consultants with Arthur D. Little at the time, wanted to find out if these successes could help them develop a magic “how to” formula for others to follow. Strangely enough for consultants, they admit that there is no such universal formula. Instead, they offer us many highly valuable myths and instructive lessons.

Each of these fourteen fascinating stories is a case study that shows innovation at work. But through these stories we build the idea that a commercial breakthrough is less about the invention of the product itself and more about how market visionaries and savvy business people transform inventions into commercial breakthroughs. All major breakthroughs were indeed the results of great teamwork between the key techical, visionary, and business players. Seldom are these skills and interests present in a single individual.

The book is also an illustration that breakthroughs happened not because of what management does but in spite of it. It takes people of courage to fight the tape and it takes great companies to allow them to do it.

Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel

If you can’t get Newton and Galileo to solve your scientific problems, who do you turn to? Well the English government turned to everyone, hoping that some budding scientist could figure out the problem of calculating Longitude at sea. They even offered a huge reward. Why was it important? Without precise longitude, there was no way to steer a ship with any precision. Thus English ships were being wrecked and precious cargo wasn’t making its scheduled delivery.

The scientists worked and worked on the problem. Many men including Edmund Halley thought that by mapping the stars, one could use the night sky as a map at sea. Although he knew little about science, a simple clockmaker named John Harrison thought that well-built clock with a dual face would solve the problem. You get to guess which person was right.

Longitude is both a vibrant story of the pains of solving an important problem, and a biography of the man who solved it. I don’t tend to read the subject of science all that much, because I find it dry, but not so with this book. Author Dava Sobel lends an understanding of the human element in science. That Harrison has to fight snobbery first and later jealousy demonstrates how ego and self-importance can get in the way of the most important problems facing human beings. Not only will you learn how average people can solve enormous tasks, but you’ll nod as the familiar self-promoters try to take the credit.

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