- Apr 18, 2011
Managing the Innovation Process
How business, philanthropy, and government leaders direct the research and development (R&D) resources of their organizations to foster innovation is a critical part of their overall leadership. And, it is crucial to the market performance of many institutions. Ultimately, this leadership and its consequential innovations play a bigger role in society: These innovations underpin the quality of life of every person on earth. Think about it: It was innovation, defined as creativity and implementation, that created efficient farm practices to better feed people, water purification to minimize disease, educational advances to better the understanding of the world, the printing press, the steam engine, the Internet—a near endless list of human advances.
Within the walls of various corporate, nonprofit, and governmental departments charged with innovation are "the geese that have laid the golden eggs." These "eggs" are the products and ideas on which the company was built and on which it subsequently thrived. And the "geese?" Well, they're the scientists, designers, technologists, artists—the "creatives" that produced those eggs in the past and are counted on to produce them in the future. Organizational culture and lore often suggest that, "many leaders don't understand the mysterious innovation process and are as likely to kill those geese as to nourish them," or so the thinking goes. Given this reality, it certainly seems risky for a non-R&D leader to tinker with that part of the organization—"let's just leave it to others," is a too often accepted groupthink.
But if leaders had this attitude toward operating divisions such as marketing or manufacturing, it would rarely be tolerated. And yet, for the sanctum sanctorum, areas like R&D and product development, somehow it seems OK. It's not. Some would simply call this hands-off behavior a dereliction of duty. Whatever you call it, truth be known, the scientists and technical leaders in these innovation departments like this status quo and resist change.
We also want to assure you that we are ever mindful that innovation is hardly a strictly R&D phenomenon. Innovation spans across all areas of a business. Innovative solutions are, of course, needed for new product lines and product improvements. But, we can also talk about innovative marketing campaigns, innovative business strategies, innovative manufacturing processes, and innovative sales approaches. None of that is even a stretch. We must therefore ask that this broad notion of innovation be kept in mind. We sometimes use terms specific to technology or engineering, but that is to allow the use of specific examples, concrete language, and clarity. We sometimes, but not always, use broader language or multiple role descriptors as a reminder of our intention and awareness. Most importantly, the principles we discuss will have application in the broader sense, and that breadth is a key to understanding the CDE, central to Part II of this book.
This book uses a fairly well-established definition of innovation: an event characterized by an act of creation or invention followed by successful implementation and deployment so that the benefits of that creation may be widely enjoyed. By defining innovation as "realized invention," you can create two distinct subevents which, in practice, have their own separate set of properties, conditions, and approaches. Of the two events, creation/invention and implementation/realization, the second act of implementation, or realization, is the one most amenable to processes, structure, and what you would classically think of as managerial intervention.
The first, the creation or invention part, has always been and remains a bit murkier. When you imagine your own personal experience with innovation, it is always much easier to describe to others the implementation part. Just how you went about inventing something isn't perfectly clear even to you. How can you manage the invention process when it just seems to happen? Surely the "conditions" were right. And so, much effort is given to the managerial duties of creating the right environment. How else to explain all those beanbag chairs on corporate invoices in the 1990s that were supposed to kick-start out-of-the-box ideas?
So, on the one hand, invention seems to be a tricky thing to manage and best left to the inventors. At the same time, we openly accuse general managers of dereliction of duty for having anything less than a robust management strategy for their innovation functions. How can managers resolve this contradiction?