Are you managing innovation? – then I bet you are not getting the outcomes you want. Managing innovation is a recipe for disruption, rather than success, here is why you should stop it and start doing something else instead to drive your business success.
Innovation is a critical part of sustained business success. Each time your firm innovates, it seeks to lift its fitness in its business ecosystem. Innovations can be about what you do as well as how you do things. This implies that you can innovate on things that face the customer, or innovate to make how you serve the customer more effectively and efficiently.
The opposite of innovating is disruption. If the market ecosystem that you exist in is rapidly changing (and, let’s face it, which market ecosystem isn’t?), then you either innovate to keep up or fall behind. When you fall behind you leave yourself open with becoming irrelevant and getting disrupted out of business.
This means you have little choice – if you want to survive, then innovation is a key business process. However, innovation does not happen under ‘management’.
Management is anti-innovative
Management can be seen as the processes and practices involved in controlling outcomes against a known best practice framework. Management is important for efficiency and effectiveness – it works to hold people, technology and processes to a consistent standard of output with known or expected results. ‘Managing’ is about constraining and focusing – the manager ‘knows’ what works, and their job is to ensure that ‘more of that’ is achieved. Variance and experimentation is the enemy of management.
Therefore management works to dampen innovation and negatively impacts the ability of many organisations to understand, create and implement critical new ideas that would keep them relevant to their customers.
“Results! Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results. I know several thousand things that won’t work”. (Thomas Edison)
Innovation is, by its very nature, messy and unpredictable. Even the best first idea needs to be experimented with, tested, iterated and modified before it is ready for implementation. This means that the people who are innovating need the resources, space and opportunity to fail.
Could your organisation tolerate 9,999 failures before an innovation emerged for implementation (As Thomas Edison suggests happened on the way to inventing the lightbulb)? Could you tolerate even ten failures? Or one? Many organisations are so ‘rigid’ that even one ‘failure’ is seen as disaster – how can innovation emerge from such situations?
“Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless”. (Thomas Edison)
Management also suggests control structures. In typical organisations, the people who need to innovate are not the people who have the power, prestige and resources that might allow innovation to occur. The team member who recognises the need for innovation should be the one who seeks a solution (or reaches in to the network to find one). Rather than creating a better way to serve the customer, a team member has to first convince the ‘boss’ that it is a good idea. The boss usually has no direct awareness of the need or the opportunity and is tasked with creating consistency (not ‘messiness’). In most cases, management systems and hierarchies actively suppress innovation in favour of routinization and efficiency.
Hierarchy in business also is built on the idea of ‘knowing’ managers and ‘mindless’ workers – mangers make the decisions and allocate the resources because they ‘know’. This view of management works to further stifle innovation – because it requires a worker to challenge the status quo, to ‘risk’ challenging a manager and going against the prevailing system to generate the innovation.
How can we innovate differently?
If innovation is so critical to business, but it is something which should not be ‘managed’, what should businesses do? It should stop managing innovation, and start managing for innovation. A leader can:
- Create the opportunity for innovation: Bring people together in informal ways to share experiences and associatively learn from each other. Silos and hierarchies need to be eliminated in the way that people communicate and share – the first stage in identifying problems to be solved and opportunities that could be pursued.
- Encourage learning, building budgets and resource allocations to non-specific contributions.
- Make sure everyone knows the purpose and focus contributors on continuously improving the experience for the customer
- Lead innovation by supporting contributors to experiment, and championing them as their ideas show promise.
- Create a culture of learning – do not accept failure, but instead seek learning from each experiment that is undertaken.
- Understand innovation as a process that sits as the outcome of an adaptive mindset of the organisation – focused on the customer and their experience.
Changing the way you view both management and innovation is critical to releasing the blocks that most organisations face in generating valuable new innovations. If you are ‘managing’ innovation, it now time to stop.
If you want to find out more, contact me directly to discuss what you can do to make innovation a reality in your business.