If the word “innovation” were a drug, most of us would be dead from a lethal overdose. The dealers want us to believe—whether in business or national security—we must “innovate or die.” And that phrase reflects part of our problem: it often seems as if we get enough of a buzz from the word itself that we feel satisfied even without substance. It’s an inexpensive high, but we need more than sayings—we need stories.
Stories illustrate what innovation really looks like in context, and the details of how it happens—or doesn’t. Orson Scott Card’s 1985 sci-fi novel Ender’s Game, which is itself about the value of stories, is a good example. It was once mandatory reading at the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College (ACSC). This surprised me, so I decided to read it myself, despite being someone who rarely reads fiction.