Can innovation be managed?


Can innovation be managed?



For many years, innovation was seen as the exclusive domain of creative types who played foosball and ruminated whilst sitting on bean bags chilling out to inspirational music. Fortunately, those times are long gone, and innovation is now recognised as a complex, science-based discipline that can be managed in the same way that any other process can be managed and optimised within an organisation.

Once organisations embrace the concept that innovation is a process, it opens up a clear pathway for building innovation capability. As with any other process, once the process has been defined, the pathway to performance becomes apparent:

  1. It becomes clear what organisational capability (skills and resources) will be needed to deliver the process
  2. It provides a mechanism for ensuring that people follow the process and ensure there is consistency across the organisation in how it innovates (in the same way that sales people need to adhere to the organisation’s sales process and not just do it their own way)
  3. It enables the effectiveness of the process to measured and improved so that performance can be managed and optimised
  4. Innovation opportunities can be assessed to determine which ones should be prioritised for putting through the innovation process (in the same way that sales leads will be prioritised in the sales funnel)
  5. Clear stage gates in the process can be managed to ensure that innovation opportunities are being moved quickly through the innovation process from opportunity through to tested, proven, validated idea.

The good news is that not only has innovation evolved into a robust, structured process, it is also true that a best practice process has been developed – it is no accident that the world’s most innovative organisations continue to repeatedly and successfully innovate despite the increasing uncertainty of our rapidly changing world. This best practice process has been built on a number of truisms that have been proved over the last two decades:

  • Don’t innovate for innovation’s sake – focus innovation effort where it will support and enable the broader strategic priorities of the business (see our article on “How do you develop an innovation strategy”)
  • Innovation starts with an opportunity not with an idea (see our article on “Where to start with innovation”) – fall in love with opportunities not ideas
  • Ideation is a creative process, not a workshop and the purpose of ideation is to come up with a diverse portfolio of solutions for solving the customer opportunity
  • Don’t bet the house on an unproven idea – uncover the key assumptions that underpin the solution and create experiments to test these assumptions and optimise these ideas based on validated learnings.

With a best practice process defined, the question for many organisations is who should be doing the managing – who’s responsibility is it to have oversight of the process and ensure that the organisation is getting value for money from its innovation efforts? The answer is a senior team of innovation leaders who understand innovation best practice and who can lead from a position of knowledge and expertise.

Bizarrely this is the bit that many organisations struggle with most. What typically happens is that future stars in the organisation are identified and trained in best practice innovation methods – they become the core of an emerging centre of excellence in innovation. But then a few senior leaders are put in place to oversee and guide these new resources but few (if any) of these senior leaders undertake any training – they rely entirely on their historic experience most of which is not grounded in modern innovation theory. This can be a huge blocker to innovation progress with the big decisions on prioritising innovation effort and managing compliance with the best practice process being made by people with minimal understanding of the very process they’re overseeing.

So, if you’re considering how to manage innovation throughout your organisation, our advice would to take three important first steps:

  1. Agree on a best practice innovation process that will provide a blueprint for how innovation gets done in your organisation
  2. Put in place an innovation leadership structure with a clear remit to have oversight of the process and ensure that the organisation is getting value for money from its innovation efforts
  3. Ensure this leadership team have a learning orientation and are deeply versed in what best practice innovation looks like, the pitfalls to avoid and the behaviours they need to display in driving an effective innovation culture.

If you would like some more information on this topic, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line at

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