What matters most in Innovation -- Findings from my master thesis

I am currently in the process of writing a bigger piece of academic work, also known as a “Master Thesis”. As this is part of an Executive MBA in Innovation Management, the “academic” actually accounts for the smaller part of the work. Which is probably good. Anyway, the subject of the thesis can roughly be described as related to innovation and innovation management and this made me read a whole pile of books, articles and papers. What I am about to present here are my findings so far – the “what matters most” I extracted [from] all that dead trees.


There are three points that matter most in Innovation

  • Innovation is overrated,
  • Innovation has a means to an end, and
  • Strategy matters

Let’s detail them a little bit further.

Innovation is overrated#

First, Innovation is defintely overrated these days. Nothing new that’s not called “innovative”. Almost no service, product or goods that are not called by some means an innovation in their field. Well, they actually are. But the term itself is overrated. Gutenberg didn’t call his printing press an “Innovation” and neither did Mr. Graham Bell for the telephone. Nevertheless, both inventions proved to be true innovations as they not only were new but provided some (economic) value both to their inventors and mankind in general. But why is it overrated, then? Because anything that’s not called “Innovation” becomes a second-class citizen, even if it didn’t deserve it so. In today’s world of shortest attention spans and billions of inputs asking for our time, everything that goes by unnoticed by the masses is actually doomed to die. So if people cry for innovation and follow each fad, they might actually miss the true innovations. I think it was Scott Berkun who once wrote that he’s not interested in the lates trends and technologies because true innovations only show their value over time. This is so true.

Innovation is a means to an end#

Second, Innovation always has a means to an end. Innovation that does not add some kind of value (mostly in the economical sense) is not a real innovation but merely a good invention. So, whenever somebody shows you her latest “Innovation”, double check it’s use and value: Is it really an economical application of something new in a different setting with different circumstances? Or is it just some great idea that will eventually turn out to be utterly useless and of no value?

Strategy matters#

Third, strategy matters. This might seem like a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many scholars talk about the necessity of a proven innovation strategy but how few of them actually can tell you

  • how to tell a good from a bad innovation strategy, and
  • how to develop a good innovation strategy by yourself

Instead, people again run after all things innovative and forget to double check what they do against the goals they want to achieve in their enterprise – and consequently burn lots of money (Well, not anymore as there ain’t any more) instead of getting their hands dirty by challenging all these great ideas that will – or will not – turn lead into gold.


Conclusion#

Innovation and Innovation Management cover almost any identifiable topic in strategy, operations, human resources … It’s a vast territory where companies can burn loads of money without ever getting tangible results. On the other hands, being a good innovator turns out to be both utterly simple and complicated at the same time.

  • Have a plan
  • Follow through with it
  • Expect yourself to find out hundreds of ways how not to invent what you want to invent.

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