Understanding the Innovation Process - IEDP
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Understanding the Innovation Process

“You will never be able to avoid some sort of disruption, but it can be minimised"


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Faced with a more uncertain business environment in the last few years than ever before, innovation—or rather, “how to be more innovative”—has become a major concern and necessity for companies. Just last month, IEDP reported on the Center for Creative Leadership’s (CCL®) thoughts on “innovation leadership.” Many leading business schools are acknowledging calls for more guidance on the innovation process, through both research and executive education.

“The problem with innovation is that it is, in the short-term, disruptive” says Cambridge Judge Business School’s Professor Christoph Loch. Loch teaches the school’s “Making Your Organisation Innovative” program. “You will never be able to avoid some sort of disruption, but this can be minimised through, for example, extra time slots for employees, or by setting up a separate business unit for innovation.” According to Loch, though these options can help make the journey to becoming more innovative smoother, inevitably there will always be some disturbance. Therefore, innovation is more of an “investment for the future” than quick, short-term benefit.

First held last October, the Judge Business School program was attended by 19 delegates from an array of industries, including the military, technology consultancies and the pharmaceutical industry. This variety of industries represented is itself a clue to how important the creation of an innovative culture is in every sector. One participant, the Head of Marketing from Michell Instruments, described the need to align “the innovation process with strategic intent” as crucial for the manufacturer’s future success.

However, even though companies like Michell Instruments have recognised that they need to incorporate innovation into their business strategy, many are still struggling to do so. In an interview with 35 senior managers from a successful European consumer goods company, IMD’s Professor Bill Fischer found that only 20 per cent had innovation responsibilities. Alongside professors from MIT Sloan School of Management, who IMD has partnered with, Fischer and his team teach the “Driving Strategic Innovation” program.

Fischer goes on to explain the importance of rethinking “the value we bring to our organisations and to ensure innovation is included among our responsibilities—no matter what our functional description.” This is similar to sentiments expressed by Loch that “creativity is in the network, not in the heads of a few geniuses.” Therefore, according to him, the real challenge is motivating employees to engage in a system of generating ideas, but then choosing and prioritising the best ones. When an organisation is able to balance that, which is something he teaches executives to do, that is when they are able to really build an innovative culture.

Similar programs are being held around the world, all focusing on bringing innovation into all levels and departments of an organisation; for example, Tuck Executive Education run the “Leading Innovation: From Idea to Impact” program, and ESADE Business School run a series of programs on this topic, including “Developing Mindsets for Strategic Learning and Innovation.”

At Columbia Business School, the “Strategic Intuition: The Key to Creative Innovation” program is based on Professor William Duggan’s book by the same name, in which he promotes the theory of “intelligent memory”; according to Duggan, analysis and intuition work together in the mind in all modes of thought in intelligent memory. “There is no left brain, there is no right,” says Duggan. “There is only learning and recall, in various combinations throughout the entire brain.” Based on these thoughts, he teaches executives how to combine various kinds of thinking and apply them to real-world business innovation.

The ongoing new research on this topic means the variety of programs and the way this subject can be taught looks set to increase in the near future.


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