Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of great ideas don't just pop out of thin air. Most are actually the unexpected combination of two or more concepts from different branches of knowledge. Innovation isn't magic; it's collision.

The more ideas you have zooming around inside your head, the more likely it will be that two of them will smack into each other, sparking a great idea. That's the reason Andrew Ng, the co-founder of Coursera and the Google Brain project, reads so much.

"I found that whenever I wasn't sure what to do next, I would go and learn a lot, read a lot, talk to experts. I don't know how the human brain works but it's almost magical: When you read enough or talk to enough experts, when you have enough inputs, new ideas start appearing," he told The Huffington Post. (Hat tip to the excellent Farnam Street blog for the pointer.)

The same process Ng uses to generate more innovative ideas can work for you. Ng even goes so far as to suggest a few titles to begin to stock the heads of would-be founders with creativity-catalyzing thoughts. Here they are:

1. Zero to One by Peter Thiel

Peter Thiel may be embroiled in controversy over his support for Donald Trump at the moment, but according to Ng his book Zero to One is well worth a read if you're aiming to start new and innovative ventures.

2. Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey A. Moore

Looking to start a business-to-business (B2B) company? Ng suggests you pick up a copy of Crossing the Chasm.

3. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

And if you're dreaming of starting a business that serves consumers instead? Then Ng recommends The Lean Startup. It "takes a narrower view but it gives one specific tactic for innovating quickly," he explains.

4. Talking to Humans by Giff Constable

Talking to Humans "is a very short book that teaches you how to develop empathy for users you want to serve by talking to them," notes Ng. It's another great read for those launching a B2C business.

5. Rocket Surgery Made Easy by Steve Krug

"If you want to build products that are important, that users care about," then Rocket Surgery Made Easy is the book for you, Ng says.

6. The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz

A super popular pick among entrepreneurs, VC Ben Horowitz's book is a favorite of Ng as well. "It's a bit dark but it does cover a lot of useful territory on what building an organization is like," he notes.

7. So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport

"For people who are trying to figure out career decisions, there's a very interesting one," Ng says of this book.

Check out the complete, in-depth interview for lots more insights from Ng.

Published on: Nov 7, 2016
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