Managing Innovation

June 10, 2011 | By More

Seemingly one of the biggest issues in any large corporation, especially MNCs, is managing innovation. Arguably the most influential person in management thinking, Peter Drucker, commented:

“Innovation is the specific instrument of entrepreneurship… the act that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth.”

No wonder. Management gurus have subsequently spent countless hours presenting powerpoint slides to weary eyed directors at board meetings in the hope of securing an unending contract, usually worth tens of millions, to help a major corporation manage its innovation process and maintain its edge.

Managing innovation a large corporations involves committees

On the other hand, the CEO of Apple, probably the most admired tech company this decade, Steve Jobs, points out:

“Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have… It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

The question is whether the others ‘get it’ – whether on the board or otherwise.

What is innovation? Webster dictionary defines it as:

in•no•va•tion (noun, “i-n&-‘vA-sh&n)
1 : the introduction of something new
2 : a new idea, method or device

Anyone can be an innovator. Children innovate all the time. Just watch what they do with the boxes that their Christmas presents come in. (OK, not the one the PS3 or X-Box came in!) Or the cardboard box that your washing machine came in. Or what they do with sticks, or blankets, or simply what they can get their hands on (and that the parents don’t freak out about) – in the days when pocket money was harder to get.

Looking at tomorrow's architects and engineers.

Children are naturally curious and creative. They innovate without thinking consciously about it. They just want to achieve one singular goal – to have fun, and they will do that with whatever they can get their hands on. Unless the parents stop them.

Their range of opportunities, strangely enough, actually expand as they go to school, college and university. Their access to raw material too (instead of sticks and cardboard boxes) has actually increased with their skills and intellect.

Innovation has since then exploded with the dot com era. The internet has provided unrestricted access to new forms of sticks, blankets and cardboard boxes, and together with new found skills – initially html, then java, xml, and so on with 3 and 4 lettered acroynms – has since unleashed a scale of innovation that the world has never seen before, including how you are reading this post today.

What is happening in the dot coms today is not mindless activity nor is it playing. The gen-X’s and gen-Y’s of today are working on problems the way they see it, and using their newer versions of sticks and cardboard boxes to fix them!

Therein lies the insight on innovation: have a purpose. The world is your oyster.

What is the equivalent to sticks and stones in the virtual world of the internet?

Identify the problem for your customer, your client, in your department or company. Use the sticks and string and cardboard boxes that are around you – be it design process, sales procedures, management norms, industry practices, whatever – to delight the customer. When this is achieved, others will say you have ‘introduced something new‘, and that it was ‘a new idea, method or device‘. That is  ‘in•no•va•tion’.

Bring back the child in you. You can do it.

Today, ask yourself what is your singular goal for your own personal development?

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About the Author ()

EngTong, pioneer and innovator. Graduated from Imperial College London with an MBA from Cranfield School of Management. Lived in Scotland, England, California, Beijing and led teams in Italy, France, Japan, Taiwan and Malaysia to do the impossible. Now based in Singapore and believes the future is to blend the sophistication of western management practices with the strength of Asian Values. Trained as a Chartered Engineer. Member of IET, Associate of City and Guilds and a certified SixSigma Champion.

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