The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World

What makes some people so spectacularly innovative, producing triumph after triumph, often in fields in which they have no specialized training? Melissa Schilling’s penetrating and original analysis of the commonalities of creative genius, QUIRKY: The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World, delves deeply into the lives of eight creative geniuses to identify the traits and experiences that led them to become breakthrough innovators.

Schilling, one of the world’s leading experts on innovation, invites us into the lives of eight prominent serial innovators—Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Elon Musk, Dean Kamen, Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Thomas Edison, and Steve Jobs—to identify the traits and experiences that drove them to make spectacular breakthroughs, over and over again. She demonstrates that while all innovators possess incredible intellect, intellect alone does not create a serial innovator. There are other very strong commonalities that make them quirky and lead to their innovativeness. For example, nearly all of the innovators exhibited very high levels of social detachment that enabled them to break with norms, an almost maniacal faith in their ability to overcome obstacles, a passionate idealism that pushed them to work with intensity even in the face of criticism or failure, and more. While these individual traits would be unlikely to work in isolation—being unconventional without having high levels of confidence, effort, and goal directedness might, for example, result in rebellious behavior that does not lead to meaningful innovation—together they can fuel both the ability and drive to pursue what others deem impossible.

In QUIRKY, Schilling uses her extensive knowledge in innovation management and strategic thinking to unearth the similarities between the breakthrough innovators of the millennium—and those still to come. Further, QUIRKY reveals the science behind the convergence of traits that increases the likelihood of success, and shows us how to nurture and facilitate breakthrough innovation in ourselves, our teams, and our children.

We all benefit from the work of few giants ​who ​massively changed the world. What sets them apart​? Melissa Schilling has written by far the best book on this topic I’ve ever read, weaving together spellbinding stories about eight amazing mega-innovators with serious, grounded science. ​Read ​it and give ​a copy to a friend — you just might ​unleash two more world-changers.

-Erik Brynjolfsson, Professor at MIT and Coauthor of The Second Machine Age and Machine | Platform | Crowd

It is not often that a business school professor writes a real page-turner, but Quirky definitely is. Melissa Schilling offers a fascinating mixture of the life stories of radical innovators, such as Elon Musk and Marie Curie, but also expertly decomposes these to reveal their underlying commonalities. What transpires is both wonderfully insightful and inspiring. Having finished the book, I felt strangely elated.

Freek Vermeulen, London Business School, and author of Business Exposed, and Breaking Bad Habits.

Quirky is a great reminder that when it comes to understanding the extraordinary, outliers and exceptions are invaluable teachers. To be able to break with social expectations, to have the confidence to tackle seemingly intractable problems and to have the social skills to inspire others are unusual, indeed. Schilling’s book takes us on an inspiring journey of discovery – leading us to see clearly what was always there, but hidden in plain view. You’ll finish the book understanding something of true genius.

Rita McGrath, Columbia University and author, The End of Competitive Advantage, Discovery Driven Growth, and more.

Professor Schilling masterfully derives powerful and fresh insights for invention and innovation, based on her careful analysis of some of the top inventors in our economic history.  Anyone interested in the history of science, innovation, and increasing the flow of useful knowledge around the world will find this an invaluable resource.

Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business and author, Open Innovation

The clarion call to be innovative sounds loud and clear, but how to respond to this call is far less clear. Schilling provides us with not a recipe, but the fundamental ingredients as illustrated by the lives of an extraordinary set of diverse innovators. The key to her secret sauce is a “distance” that provides the perspective to think differently, the passion to bring an insight to fruition, and the good fortune of context to facilitate these elements. A captivating read with inspirational biographies and valuable lessons to help light that innovative flame.

Daniel Levinthal, Professor at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania

A fascinating journey through the minds, experiences, and ideas of breakthrough innovators, Melissa Schilling’s Quirky is an exceptionally rewarding marriage of biography and social science that will change the way you think about winners and winning.

Ron Adner, Professor at Tuck, Dartmouth University, and author of The Wide Lens: What Successful Innovators See that Others Miss

Melissa A. Schilling’s new book QUIRKY tells the stories of men and women who have transformed through innovation. “The Remarkable Story of the Traits, Foibles, and Genius of Breakthrough Innovators Who Changed the World,” it revolves around the three main themes of creativity and originality, effort and persistence, and situational advantage. Edison, Musk, Einstein, Curie and many others are compared. An interesting and well-crafted journey through the lives of those “quirky” women and men who dance along the edge for us, so we all benefit from human inventiveness.

David Brin, author of The Postman, Existence, Chasing Shadows, The Transparent Society, and more.

Quirky is…well, quirky! A compelling multi-case study of amazing innovators. Yet while these people are breath-taking in their ingenuity, Schilling also wisely blends in sharp insights for the rest of us to step up our own innovation “game”. Bravo!

Kathleen M. Eisenhardt, S.W. Ascherman Professor of Strategy at Stanford University and co-author of Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World