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Jeffrey Phillips

Innovation

Innovation: Management vs. Enablement

Can you codify creativity?

Published: Wednesday, December 7, 2016 - 16:34

I love innovation. I love all facets of it: the discovery of needs, creativity, unique solutions, and the realization of ideas as new products and services. But what concerns me sometimes is the way in which we attempt to implement innovation, because we are likely to constrain it at the time we need it most.

You may have heard a lot of talk about innovation management. This is not necessarily a wrong idea, but it can severely limit ideas. We managers and executives, trained in the school of efficiency and with our MBAs in tow, believe we can manage anything. To some degree that is correct. We can manage and improve things that are well-defined and understood. To some degree we can even put guardrails around things we don’t fully understand or can’t define. But the risk we run when we talk about managing innovation is that we become entranced with managing instead of creative thinking.

I've seen this play out again and again. Managers and executives want and need stability, repeatability, and predictability. They want the outcomes of exciting, disruptive innovation without the variability and costs of what happens in the wild. As experts at managing things, our initial behavior is to codify, define, and provide governance and structure to an activity that most managers don’t fully grasp or understand. Rather than attempt to fully explore the innovation possibilities, managers first attempt to get a handle on what they believe innovation is, and how it should be conducted, managed, and governed.

As I’ve said, this is a very fine edge to walk. Large corporations can’t survive when wild ideas abound with little definitive structure or guidance. They simply don’t work that way. Funds and resources don’t flow to unstructured exercises. But too much of a “handle” closes the aperture on innovation. The result is a well-governed, well-defined process that cranks out predictable ideas. If that sounds something like your product development process, that’s a problem. Most firms can’t get well-defined solutions out of their product development process fast enough, much less generate interesting ideas quickly enough. Yet their first notion is to place the same management and overhead on innovation as they do on product development.

Now, this diatribe may sound interesting coming from a team that has argued for years about defining an innovation process. And that’s the other side of the coin. You need to define just enough process for effective innovation activities to ensue. Since there’s exceptionally little commonality about how people generate ideas or shepherd them into new product development cycles, some definition is needed, some skills and tools are required. While we need just enough of these to be—wait for it—minimally viable for innovation, we also need to allow expansion, enable exploration, and welcome divergence.

Loosen up on the management mindset; make way to enable.

First published on the Innovate on Purpose blog.

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About The Author

Jeffrey Phillips’s picture

Jeffrey Phillips

Jeffrey Phillips is the lead innovation consultant for OVO, which offers assessments, consulting, training and team definition, change management, innovation workshops, and idea generation space and services. Phillips has led innovation projects in the United States, Western Europe, South Africa, Latin American, Malaysia, Dubai, and Turkey. He has expertise in the entire “front end of innovation” with specific focus on trend spotting and scenario planning, obtaining customer insights, defining an innovation process, and open innovation. He’s the author of Relentless Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2011), and 20 Mistakes Innovators Make (Amazon Digital Services, 2013), and co-author of OutManeuver: OutThink—Don’t OutSpend (Xlibris, 2016).