By Simon Evans & Victor Newman
The recently published Accenture report “Innovation: a Priority for Growth in the Aftermath of the Downturn” highlights that although many companies are increasing their innovation spend, they frequently do not enforce the same management discipline as they do for other critical processes, citing as a possible reason:
“Many people believe innovation is a creative endeavour that cannot or should not be managed”
I want to explore this a little. I have come across this attitude fairly often and have at times promoted this view myself, not wanting to tie the creative types down with red tape and processes that reduce their freedoms to innovate. However we would argue that a happy medium is entirely possible to achieve which provides clarity to the architecture of the end-to-end innovation process and also yet maintains the freedoms to innovate for the people involved.
In other words, we need defined hard/tight disciplines that win us the time to do the soft/loose creative thinking and playing that make innovation possible. We can’t ever afford to be too busy on the wrong stuff, to have time to think.
Without an effective environment provided and maintained by Agile Innovation Leadership, those great ideas will wither and die very quickly. Without a crystal clear map of the processes that identify the great, well-aligned ideas, develop them into a tangible products with high potential value and then maximise the return of this value in the market you are trusting far too much to chance.
It is no good waiting for the “innovation fairies” to come and wave their magic wands to generate ideas. Innovation does not just happen for free or by magic – it’s like a game you can choose to win. You must proactively create the opportunities to innovate, and keep the pressure up to ensure a steady flow of new ideas into the pipeline. This will only occur with a clearly visualised architecture that is well understood by all, and which is properly supported by the right resources and where the points of interaction are clearly defined.
It seems to us that too many companies develop an immune response to innovation – they build up antibodies created by a history of poor results from past innovation initiatives that did not truly embed innovation across the whole spectrum of business activities. This tends to push management into a risk-averse state and not fully trust their creative processes or the ideas that they come up with. There is also a tendency to keep the “Innovation Initiative” slightly at arms length in order to “protect” the rest of the business from these risky ideas. However you cannot innovate in a vacuum, isolated from the rest of the business – it is not a thing apart – it *is* the business – without it, the future of your success is at severe risk!
The analysis above implies that a significant degree of management rigour is essential to reap the benefits of innovation, but how do we do this without crushing the innovators beneath a intolerable weight of management processes, metrics and reporting commitments? Many will chant the mantra that innovation management must be “repeatable and consistent in order to sustain growth”. We feel that this view should be challenged as in that direction lies a rut in the road which forces us to adopt the same approach as our legacy successes, and therefore risks us being in a position of always fighting the last battle. Whatever innovation leadership we put in place needs to be agile and responsive to both internal imperatives and external changes so that we are ready to benefit from any emergent trend at the earliest opportunity. This will allow us to more effectively fit our innovation architecture to the needs of the ever changing world. In order to achieve this Leaders must be bold, risk taking and visionary.
So, should innovation be managed in the same way as other business processes? The answer has to be yes, but maybe we should turn this on its head and ask “should other business processes be managed the same way as we manage innovation”? If we are successful in providing true Agile Innovation Leadership then this could perhaps be a model for the rest of the organisation!
At InnovoFlow (www.innovoflow.co.uk) we provide some help in achieving this state by articulating and envisioning the agile innovation leadership process through the use of a tool – “The Innovation Game” which can be used either as a diagnostic tool to help model innovation behaviours and processes, or as a fun, competitive learning tool which will help you think more broadly about the setting up and maintenance of a responsive innovation architecture.