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Publisher's Summary

As a technology pioneer at MIT and as the leader of three successful start-ups, Kevin Ashton experienced firsthand the all-consuming challenge of creating something new. Now, in a tour-de-force narrative 20 years in the making, Ashton leads us on a journey through humanity's greatest creations to uncover the surprising truth behind who creates and how they do it. From the crystallographer's laboratory where the secrets of DNA were first revealed by a long forgotten woman, to the electromagnetic chamber where the stealth bomber was born on a twenty-five-cent bet, to the Ohio bicycle shop where the Wright brothers set out to "fly a horse"; Ashton showcases the seemingly unremarkable individuals, gradual steps, multiple failures, and countless ordinary and usually uncredited acts that lead to our most astounding breakthroughs.

Creators, he shows, apply in particular ways the everyday, ordinary thinking of which we are all capable, taking thousands of small steps and working in an endless loop of problem and solution. He examines why innovators meet resistance and how they overcome it, why most organizations stifle creative people, and how the most creative organizations work. Drawing on examples from art, science, business, and invention, from Mozart to the Muppets, Archimedes to Apple, Kandinsky to a can of Coke, How to Fly a Horse is a passionate and immensely rewarding exploration of how "new" comes to be.

©2015 Kevin Ashton (P)2015 Random House

What members say

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A refreshing take on creation and innovation

As a creative professional and president of a game development company I often read new books on innovation only to find that they are rehashing old ideas or quoting each other. This book, however, was the first to challenge some outdated beliefs and provide me a new perspective.

From an audiobook perspective the author did a wonderful job as narrator. It added to the sincerity of the message for me.

I plan to pick up a printed version of this book as it has a permanent place in my library and I certainly will recommend it to employees and colleagues alike.

Well done.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Creation is Ordinary! This book is not.

If you could sum up How to Fly a Horse in three words, what would they be?

This book is engaging, helpful, and inspiring. One of the most interesting books I've listened to. I can't stop talking about it with others. Not only did I learn more about the creative process from a different point of view, I learned so much more along the journey.

What other book might you compare How to Fly a Horse to and why?

Because of it's heavy use of stories from many difference fields, it kept me hooked from the start. In some ways, it reminded me of the Freakonomics books and books from Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell.

Have you listened to any of Kevin Ashton’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

This is my first book to listen to from Kevin Ashton and I thought he did a great job narrating his book.

If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

Creation is Ordinary. This Film Is Not!

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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Too many Stories

This book was bad timing for me. I'm unsure where I received my expectations, however I found the book fairly uneventful. While I appreciate the use of stories for both entertainment and learning value, I couldn't help wanting the book to break-out and provide some actual content. I was seeking concepts, a framework, ideas on inspiring, creating or ideas to implement an environment of creation. A handful of these are evident in the stories and highlighted, but there is no consistent reinforcement of the story to the learning point. Just an approximate 25 stories back to back creation in the world that was essentially a result of hard work. If you want stories, dive in. If you are looking for an education on useful guidelines, carry on.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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Starts Great, but Too Disjointed & Unconvincing

What did you like best about How to Fly a Horse? What did you like least?

I did love the part of this book that was dedicated to proving its thesis that innovative technology and creative art is the result of productive labors and not innate genius or other alleged innate abilities. This is definitely right and very well proven in the first third of the book with rigorous data, anecdotes and all presented with great style as well. The author engages in great myth busting of historical examples of “flashes of genius” by Mozart and others. His review of the psychological and other studies confirms that these are not mere anecdotes. He ably shows with great panache that all valuable creations are the product of work. Lots of work. New innovative technologies and creative art are the fruits of intellectual and physical labors.

What was most disappointing about Kevin Ashton’s story?

First, in pursuit of his theme that productivity and innovation is the result of hard work by individuals who are driven toward their goals, he ends up going too far in his claims and he ultimately denies that some people are in fact geniuses. Yes, geniuses have to work to create, but there are people who are brilliant and capable of thought beyond anything others can do; I personally know some of these people, and it is a joy to talk with them about all sorts of professional and intellectual issues simply because I have to race mentally at full speed to keep up with the mental leaps they easily make. Being a genius doesn’t guarantee that one will create or invent, but great innovative or creative labors are still often rooted in genius. Mozart worked hard (an example he uses in the book), but Mozart was also a genius who was crafting beautiful works of art at the age of three, and so were many of the other historical examples he cites or quotes from (such as Aristotle, Einstein, etc.).

It is a fact that new valuable technology and art are created by labor, and that being an intellectual genius does NOT guarantee that one will also chose a virtuous life of productive labor in creating such things. One must make the right choices and engage in the effort. But it is also a fact that some people are geniuses, and when they engage in productive labor, their work-product reflects this fact, whether it is a previously unimaginable symphony or opera, a new scientific breakthrough or a new technological product.

After about the first third of the book, the author also begins to stray into too many ancillary topics that leave the reader wondering why he is spending so much time on these topics. He spends an extensive time detailing how woman historically have been discriminated against in scientific, technological, or medical research, e.g., detailing how they were denied the ability to go to college and how men often took the credit for their work. This was interesting, and I have no doubt that the stories he recounts are true, but I kept thinking upon listening to example after example of female scientists denied recognition for their work: How is this relevant to a book dedicated to the thesis that productive labors is the source of innovative technology and creative art? Unfortunately, it seemed like the author let his own personal views on contemporary political and social issues get mixed into a book that otherwise could have been much more convincing and enjoyable to read without these excursions into important social matters.

Relatedly, he ends up making a contradictory argument rooted in his very own thesis that innovation and creativity is necessarily the byproduct of work. Later in the book, he spends an inordinate time attempting to engage in more myth busting about historical figures who are recognized as genius inventors, scientists, etc., not by denying that the source of their innovation was that they were geniuses (he already addressed that earlier in the book), but by denying that they made any original contributions at all. He recounts example after example of scientific insights or technological discoveries that were really made possible because they were in fact small advances or even repeated rediscoveries of the work that came before them. So, the reader is left with the impression in these chapters that there are no original advances at all, a point the author hammers home by showing how the famous phrase attributed to Newton that he was able to make his earthshattering discoveries only because he “stood on the shoulders of giants” was in fact a well-known phrase and one that was used for hundreds of hears before Newton. So, if the individual doesn’t really contribute anything, and innovation and creativity is the work of multitudes of people working over hundreds (if not thousands) of years, then what’s the point of any individual working and claiming credit for anything. The contradiction of this argument in his book with his own thesis that innovation and creativity is in each of us – that we just have to choose to work to create such things – is palpable to even the most casual reader.

The last half of the book has many other distractions, such as details of corporate structures in war-time aircraft production that illustrate how creativity is fostered by an environment in which people can talk and work with each other. Okay, but this is just one anecdote and it doesn’t prove anything, and frankly there are far better examples, such as Bell Labs (as addressed perfectly in the book, The Invention Factory). Moreover, he never connects these anecdotes on corporate structures and policies to his thesis about how innovation and creativity is the result of productive labor, but he has contradicted this thesis so many times at this point in the book, it is understandable why he does not. By now, he’s completely lost his theme, and at this point, he starts to engage in the same silly-sounding clichés that he rightly criticizes in his introductory chapter about other books on innovation, such as “The source of creativity is in you!” Etc. Etc.

What does Kevin Ashton bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

The author is a lively reader of his own book, which reflects that he is an engaging public speaker. As I said above, I'm sure the talk he gave that is the progenitor of this book is really great.

Do you think How to Fly a Horse needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

No, the errors in the book should be corrected first.

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Incredible!

Absolutely incredible book. Will relisten over and over. Dense with invaluable insight on creation and history! What a brilliant creation! Thanks Kevin.

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Creative people are driven by good values

The stories told are riveting and compelling. How much do you care to know and understand and break the chain of the past.

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How to be creative guide told with short stories

Probably the best book I've read this year. The author starts out by dispelling the myth that creatives are genius and geniuses are creators. There doesn't seem to be much of a correlation between IQ and creativity. Then he goes on to talk about historical creators like the European artists, the Wright Bothers, Lockheed Martin during WWII, and even the South Park guys. He used these stories to show how to instill creativity in yourself and your team.

I really enjoyed this book and shared it with the CEO, project managers, and creative types at my company.

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Amazing!

What made the experience of listening to How to Fly a Horse the most enjoyable?

This is a new born classic in creativity studies.

Who was your favorite character and why?

Ashton himself as a humble creator that inspires.

What does Kevin Ashton bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

Credibility and "in the trenches" experiences...

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

It made me stand up and get my game together and create. Do, not talk: Show me!

Any additional comments?

If you are into product discovery this is a MUST in your life.

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A good collection of stories

This book conveys various observations around creation and creativity via a medium of lots of stories and accounts from real life. I have never heard of these accounts before and I enjoyed hearing them. However at times it felt that the author went too deep and gave lot of extra details which weren't that interesting.
There are many take aways. But due to because the books so lengthy, you tend to forget them. I wish there were less chapters and the chapter names reminded you of the theme/take-away-learning so that one could easily find them and play them back.

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Do away with paralysis

Kevin Ashton reveals the power of small incremental steps. A book for anyone feeling paralyzed by the enormity of their goals.