The Myths of Innovation and the Full Machiavelli Quote on Change

Last month I posted a quote from Nicolo Machiavelli on change that I had heard in a lecture by Carly Fiorina. I’ve recently picked up the book The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun where he includes the whole quote – which is much more interesting than the subset.

There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this lukewarmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.

— Niccolo Machiavelli

Aside from finding this gem, this book is excellent – and has provided so much mental relief for me in its reading. So many people I know talk about innovation like its a thing, rather than a series of ideas, experiments and failures that may lead to something great.

Scott describes innovation in the book like this:

The dirty little secret – the fact often denied – is that unlike the mythical epiphany, real creation is sloppy. Discovery is messy; exploration is dangerous. No one knows what he’s going to get when he is being creative.

To which he follows up with:

Creative work cannot fit neatly into plans, budgets, and schedules. Magellan, Lewis and Clark, and Captain Kirk were all sent on missions into the unknown with clear understanding that they might not return with anything, or even return at all.

This is a perfect book for managers all the way up the chain. It documents everything about the creative field that those in it know, and those who manage people in it have been conditioned to forget. If there is one book you pick up this year, pick this one up, read it, give it to your manager, and have him give it to his manager.

9 thoughts on “The Myths of Innovation and the Full Machiavelli Quote on Change

  1. Hey – thanks for picking up the book and giving it a spin!

    Best wishes with your guitar noodling – I started playing about 3 years ago. I still suck but I sure do love it.


  2. Pingback: » Blog Archive » More reviews for Myths

  3. Machiavelli’s “The Prince”… I think we should all take note of the history and what torture on the rack can produce. Take note, developers, you are next!

  4. Pingback: Machiavelli from Ofcom

  5. Pingback: All We Are Saying, Is Give Klins a Chance | Jim's a keeper

  6. Actually, Chris – you should read the book. It actually explains that the folks that fund “innovation” need to understand it is a creative process with failure totally possible. Most companies that talk about “innovation” are not willing to fund ideas that you cannot absolutely prove will be successful. Thats the point of the book – and thats the point of this post. Scott does a really good job of studying innovation from the creative side to teach managers and senior leadership of companies what it really is – and that funding it is necessary, but success (especially immediately) is not guaranteed – oh and that you final destination might not be where you expected it to be.

  7. Pingback: Not everyone welcomes your bright idea – Just About Leading

  8. Nice Post!

    Fred Brooks wrote “You can’t take nine women to make a baby in one month.” It takes time for new ideas to grow, new paths to try until you create something “innovative”. Adding people at the end of a late project only makes it later (due to the communications required to familiarize the new people and bring them up to speed with the project).

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