Who needs innovation?

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Or rather, who needs innovations groups? Once upon a time, people had ideas. People in big companies had ideas. And told their friends, and took them to their bosses, who if they were good ideas often took them to their bosses who had private venture funds that they could allocate to promising-looking ideas. 20-odd years ago I got my own crazy ideas funded that way: some of them turned into products, some of them died, but none of them needed someone specifically dedicated to innovations processing to make them appear.

So what changed? I worked for monolithic companies back then, I work for monolithic companies now, and engineers have always been engineers, whatever the decade (although there wasn’t really the concept of a ‘hip’ engineer back in the 1980s). So maybe the environment changed. Maybe the standards for what makes a good engineer have changed, maybe it’s the move from 5% training and PV budgets, maybe it’s even the style of management changing from hierarchical and experienced to village market and image-driven. But whatever has changed, it’s driving a need for people who can make the safe space in which innovations can thrive, and champion ideas to the image-makers and transient.

3 comments

  1. Anonymous

    What changed is that some managers figured out that they could take the credit for innovation. It may be that some companies don’t need innovations groups, but the innovations manager surely does need them, for his career, so they persist.

  2. Cognitive Overload

    I would very strongly dispute that (but as an innovations manager, I guess I would). Without an innovations scheme in my current dinosaur, innovation would still happen, but the innovation that the company actually saw would be confined to a small group of people whose ‘job it is to do research’ and many of the good ideas and insights we’ve had from across the company would have been missed. The first danger of corralling your innovative people into one group is that they lose contact with your product and customer needs, and become very good in a very small area of what the company actually does or could do. The second danger is that most innovation from outside this group is lost because there is now no formal or informal route for it, which itself is an unintended side-effect of saying “innovation comes from here”. HAving an innovations elite is easier to manage, but not innovatively optimal for the company. This can be solved a bit by buying in new talent from outside every so often, but that still doesn’t address the waste of potential internal talent that it creates.

  3. David Murphy

    No, no, no 😉

    You are making the mistake of thinking that because something works, that is why it happens. Your comment is an eloquent argument for why innovation management is necessary. But that isn’t why it happens. It happens because it furthers people’s careers. It might also, accidentally, be helpful. But that’s irrelevant.

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