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Cris Beswick

Author, Speaker + Strategic Advisor on Innovation

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Innovation is about optimisation, not control


What is innovation? I’m probably preaching to the converted here but over my time as a thought leader and strategic advisor on innovation I’ve received a surprising variety of answers to that simple question. I’ve been told that innovation is the preserve of the few who inhabit the R&D department and therefore nothing to do with anyone else. I’ve been told that innovation is all very well for start-up companies but that it wouldn’t fit in here as we have tried and tested ways of doing things. And I’ve been told that building a culture of innovation is simply another in a long line of business fads and therefore not worth bothering about.

Well there is nothing intrinsically wrong with fads; and if it is a fad, then it is one which 79% of executives now believe is a top three priority for their organisation. But in a way I do understand all the responses because for many organisations, building a culture of innovation will take them well out of their comfort zone and into uncharted territory. And because innovation-led cultures open up initiative and ideas and collaboration across the entire organisation, there is a very real fear that the pursuit of innovation can lead to some kind of free for all.

In theory, it could but only if the organisation is led by the sort of people who really shouldn’t be in a position of leadership. Properly designed, implemented and managed innovation-led cultures are subject to as much, if not more, control as any other organisational culture system. Put simply, when you empower, when you collaborate, when you open up the organisation to co-create with third parties then structure and boundaries are essential if you are to deliver game-changing solutions.

I discussed this idea of innovation management recently with Rosemarie Diegnan, Chief Strategy & Product Officer for Wazoku. I started by asking her for her definition of innovation management.

Q- What is Innovation Management?
A - Innovation management is the process of capturing and managing organisational innovation.

Traditionally the territory of R&D teams, today many companies have organisation-wide innovation management programmes. This is due to increased recognition that innovation is essential for driving business growth and maintaining competitive advantage. Successful programmes capture the creativity of employees at every level of the organisation so ideas for new products, business models or process improvements, can be quickly discovered and implemented for maximum value.

Q – You’ve talked before about Optimisation, not control.  What do you mean by that?
A - Effective innovation management requires three things: a defined process model, a focus on innovation, and the right tools to manage it. It’s important however, to make sure that you’re optimising the process, not controlling it. A strict, hierarchical chain of command can stifle innovation. Instead, employees need to feel individually empowered to drive change and recognised for their innovation.

Q – How does this translate into the innovation process?

A – I would see this as bottom-up emergence and top-down management. Great ideas don’t usually come from prescribed brainstorming sessions. Inspiration can come from anywhere and at any time. Your innovation management programme must support idea capture from bottom-up, via employees, as well as top-down from management as strategic requests. This flexibility allows you to solve known problems as well as capture unsolicited, spontaneous ideas.

These thoughts from Rosemarie encapsulate the importance of really understanding what a culture of innovation can deliver to an organisation and then designing the culture change required in order to open up potential whilst managing risk. It is a balancing act and it is one for which every business has its own optimum solution. Go too far one way and you have lots of activity with little reward. Go too far the other way and you can stifle creativity. Good innovation management requires leaders who are able to draw on their people skills and who are prepared to draw on technology in order to help them achieve their aims. Optimisation not control is the key, and when you get it right you achieve a strong innovation culture capable of delivering game-changing solutions and outstanding customer experiences.


Author Profile Picture
Cris Beswick

Author, Speaker + Strategic Advisor on Innovation

Read more from Cris Beswick

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