Book Review | How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

If you’ve ever wondered what was the secret of ground-breaking innovation then this book may contain some startling answers for you. British tech pioneer, Kevin Ashton, lets you in on the secret of Eureka! moments in his fascinating new book, How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery. 

how-to-fly-a-horseKevin Ashton is famous for founding the Auto-ID Center at MIT and being the first to coin the phrase ‘Internet of Things’ the concept that describes the sensitive interconnection between the things in our lives and the internet. In his recent book How to Fly a Horse, he debunks one of the most persistent myths surrounding creativity and genius.

We’re very quick to attribute unusual success to the genius or incomparable intellect of the innovator. Thus Beethoven, thus Archimedes. But Kevin Ashton takes the opposite view. Rather allowing than the idea that path-making innovation arises from momentary flashes of inspiration, he insists that the creative process is about trial and error and constant improvement. It’s about the intellectual inheritance that came before us, and on which we had the privilege to build. It’s about iteration, tweaking and constant improvement. Most of all, and if there is one overlying lesson in this book, it is all about hard work.

Ashton cites another veteran British pioneer, James Dyson, as an example of all these qualities. James Dyson is famous for inventing the cyclone suction vacuum cleaner. What is less known is that it took him 5,126 prototypes to perfect his design. This perfectly encapsulates the grit and tenacity that is at the heart of Ashton’s main message throughout this book.

Which is not to say that How to Fly a Horse doesn’t have plenty of other important insights. He regularly turns the ferocious light of his gaze towards oft-repeated business and management clichés. He dismantles the idea that a team is more creative than a two-person endeavor. He enjoys taking down the idea that human creativity is proportional to the level of financial rewards on offer. Brainstorming too, is a valueless activity apparently.

The sheer range and zest of this book contributes to its light and enjoyable vibe. The science behind Woody Allen’s comedy and the root of South Park’s success all fall within the scope of this ambitious book. The range and breadth of the examples chosen by Ashton to illustrate his arguments are a sign of intesity of his curiosity. They also contribute greatly to the readability of the book.

Whether you’re interested in how creativity happens in the office or in the lab, or whether you are involved in product development or entrepreneurial activities this book will have something for you. It’s light and fast and will leave you feeling like you have just been taken for a road trip down the highway of human creativity by an extremely fast, agile and analytical mind.

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