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5 Innovation management myths

innovation myths

For some, the term innovation management is an oxymoron. In reality, innovation management is a domain that ensures that the best ideas and innovation projects make it to practice in an effective and cost-efficient manner. As a result, innovation management is surrounded by a lot of myths. In the blog below I debunk five of these innovation management myths:

Innovation management myth 1: Innovation happens spontaneously as the result of a creative spark

Innovation requires more than a spark of energy. It takes a marathon.

A creative spark can trigger the thought process but not more than that. To act upon an idea requires deliberate action.

You need to voice the idea, seek feedback, obtain organizational buy-in, draft a plan, and take action to get funding, develop a testable solution, test, implement, scale, etc.. In sum, it takes a lot of work!

Innovation is not about ideas, it is about making ideas happen.

Read more about how as part of the innovation management process.

Innovation management myth 2: Your clients will tell you to innovate

Clients won’t tell you what to innovate or when. They will leave if they are not happy with your services.

Don’t expect your clients to reach out to you unsolicited or ask you to innovate. However, you do need their input to identify and prioritize innovation opportunities. The latter requires deliberate action.

It means that you need to engage your clients in conversations about their current pain points, frustrations, and challenges and use that to define innovation opportunities. So in that sense, you do rely on your clients to tell you what to innovate, however, your clients will only do so if you ask and listen.

This process is called customer discovery.

Innovation management myth 3: Innovation is expensive

Innovation asks for an investment. Whether it is in time or resources, but you cannot innovate for free. Innovation can thus become very expensive, especially if you budget your projects at the start, build solutions too soon, give up projects too early, and don’t scale your successes.

However, all of these are preventable mistakes. If instead, you invest to de-risk each project one milestone at a time, the expenses can be kept in balance with the risks. That means that a large investment may be made over time, but only when it has become rather certain that this investment will result in the expected large return.

Lastly, there are the overhead costs of managing the innovation process. Again, those expenses don't have to break the bank. Instead, they should be covered by the benefits and returns the innovation program generates as a whole.

Read all about the cost of innovation in our white paper The Cost Of Innovating.

Innovation management myth 4: Innovation is only for creative minds

Creative problem solving is certainly an important part of the innovation process. After all, you need the ability to come up with alternative, better, and often novel solutions.

However going there where nobody else has ever gone, requires teamwork, leadership, dealing with uncertainty, and diligence more than creativity. And in my experience, dealing with uncertainty is what makes an innovation project challenging to manage in most cases.

In other words, if you are creative but cannot convince others that it is an idea worth pursuing or get a team together you won’t stand a chance to become a successful innovator. A creative mind is a very useful skill set to have, but not a sufficient condition to become a successful innovator.

Innovation Management myth 5: Innovation activities have a high ROI

Innovation activities can have a high ROI, if you invest in many of the right things, execute projects very diligently, scale your successes, and know when to stop.

You need a large portfolio of innovation projects with a diverse risk profile to create a high financial return on investment.

Executing diligently means that each team has to prioritize testing of the most critical assumptions throughout their innovation journey.

Scaling your successes sounds obvious. However, perfecting and expanding something existing is often not a task the innovators who created the solution excel in.

And perhaps most difficult of all, knowing when to stop. The tough keep going when the going gets tough. The question is, what will the wise do?

In sum, creating a positive return from innovation activities is possible, but not a given. And if you don't have a budget to support hundreds of innovation projects like the Bell labs, Google or Amazon, the odds are not in your favor.

Learn more about how to change your odds in this blog that explains the innovation process we use in our T4 innovation training program.

What then is innovation management?

After reading these five innovation management myths, you may wonder, so what is innovation management?

To provide an answer to this question, let's first define innovation itself. When we asked our readers to define innovation, they said innovation is a process for bringing ideas to practice and a mindset of exploring, experimenting, and trying new things.

That makes that innovation management is defined as the management of the innovation process and the fostering of the innovation mindset. Managing the process ensures that the best ideas and innovation projects make it to practice in an effective and cost-efficient manner. Fostering the mindset ensures that ideas are heard, acted upon, and lessons are learned from innovation projects regardless of whether they result in successful new offerings.  The uncertainty and ambiguity that are inherent to innovation make innovation management different from any other management practice.

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