Thoughts From a Grumpy Innovator — Book Review

grumpy babyFrom a comment in Dublin came a book from the The Hague written by a man with a Greek name.

Following a blog post on Trinity College Dublin’s Innovation Awards, I was tracked down by Costas Papaikonomou (@GrumpyInnovator), author of Thoughts From a Grumpy Innovator. Interested in the blog post, he sent along a copy of his just-published book.

During those awards, Brian Caulfield (@BrianCVC), a partner at venture capital firm, DFJ Esprit (@dfjesprit), spoke about the nature of innovation and innovators.

One of his comments was that innovation is driven by people who are dissatisfied with the status quo. Their grumpiness about what is currently on offer leads them to find better ways of doing things, Caulfied said.

It turns out Papaikonomou had just written his book, “the narcissistic result of posting thoughts onto Twitter over a period of two years, mostly on the topic of mass market innovation.”

The book is structured around a “polemic” opening each chapter followed by a series of Tweet-sized observations on the topic at hand. As the author says:

“[If] you are looking for a business management book with clear-cut tips and tricks — sorry. You won’t find an extensive list of innovation success stories to copy, nor an Innovate-O-Matic toolbox to plunder … So I’m afraid I can’t promise you’ll make millions after reading this book, but I do hope you’ll smile every now and then.”

The format, however, makes the book very easy to dip in and out of, and is probably a good part of the reason it was named as British Airways Business Book of the Month.

It is also the kind of read where you will find yourself laughing at the wit, or agreeing sadly or cynically with the comments about corporate environments. As a result, it is one of those books that you are likely to hold on to and keep handy — the type of book that is less read and more  flicked through constantly.

Then there is some real insight that should be threaded back in to your daily life. There are many ways to warn about the danger of statistics, for example, but this one as it relates to market research is a real gem: “[T]he average consumer has one tit and one testicle. Statistically 100% true — and 100% useless.”


Although not an innovation how-to, there is plenty of sound advice. The chapter, The Evil Twin of Operational Excellence, for example, contrasts the urge for efficiency with the need for an environment of uncertainty and flexibility where innovation can be explored. “The expertise required for operational excellence and the attitude required to successfully improvise are mutually exclusive,” Papaikonomou says.

In no particular order, here are some of my favorite lines from the book:

“Raising the innovative capability of a nation: Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do contrary.”

“Creating ideas alone is like drinking alone. Less fun, less productive, potentially embarrassing and a sign that something else is wrong.”

“Yo momma innovate so bad she lined up at the dole office to collect her concept’s benefits.”

“Like real children, ideas need most attention when they’re tired and start annoying everyone.”

 “Try completing one of your own surveys first before complaining about drop-out rates.”

 “If anyone objects to, or doubts the quality of you big new idea… distract them by starting a hair-splitting discussion on the meaning of the word ‘innovation’.”

Funnily enough, there was additional feedback from the initial article about the Innovation Awards. During his talk, Caulfield illustrated his point with a picture of a grumpy baby. I went out to Flickr and found the one above. The photographer, Beth Haught, is based in Lowell, probably Mass., and I left a note on her page that I was using the image. Her comment back was, “the ‘baby’ is almost 6 years old now and your use of his baby pic made him feel a bit like a celebrity.”

  • Grumpy baby shot by Beth Haught and  reused under Creative Commons license on Flickr.
  • Image of Grumpy Innovator book cover is a partial screen grab of the book’s website.