Organizing for innovationProfessional Services

How Professionals Innovate

Engineers, lawyers, clinicians, educators, and many more, are all professionals. Most of you had to study for years to get into these professions. Now that you are in, how do you contribute to advancing your profession? How do you innovate?

How do professionals innovate?

The question of how professionals innovate, i.e., how they contribute to the advancement of their own professions, is something that has intrigued me for the past 15 years. Most of the innovation literature has been developed for manufacturing firms, and since the work of professionals is not done in product lines, most of the innovation management findings are not very relevant. Hence the question, how do professionals innovate?

It starts with sensemaking

Professionals Innovate | Innovation for Professional Service FirmsAfter years of training, you finally get to do what you studied to do. In this process, you undoubtedly came across practices that did not make sense to you. In addition, you probably thought about how to address a given issue differently, better, faster, cheaper, etc. This is where the innovation process begins.

However, if you just keep your ideas to yourself, it remains daydreaming, which has little to no value. It is important to share your idea with others, even when it is just a thought, for multiple reasons:

  1. It helps to obtain validation for your idea. What is the feedback of others? Do they understand the idea? Do they also see the need?
  2. It helps you to articulate your idea better: by talking about it, you practice how to express it in a way that is understood by others.
  3. It helps to improve your idea. Others will come up with valuable suggestions on how to improve, or with whom inside or outside the organization you can connect to learn more.

We label this kind of sharing sensemaking, after Weick’s theory: talking to others helps you make sense of your own experiences and ideas.


Professionals Innovate | Innovation for Professional Service FirmsAfter many sensemaking conversations, you are ready for the next step, transforming your idea into a concept.

Now that others understand what your idea is about and why it is important, you will be able to get approval (and seedfunding if needed) to try it out. This is what we refer to as the development phase of the innovation process, and it’s all about creating and learning—i.e., trial and error.

The focus during the development phase is on collecting evidence. Since the early phases of development are not very expensive, trial-and-error learning can be used to discover what works and what does not.

But be aware that your expert opinion and gut feeling can be very misleading when it comes to innovation. If evidence is not available, you should run experiments to create proof of concept. Don’t start work right away just because you like the idea.

The development phase ends when the idea is applied in practice for the first time. There is no better proof of innovation success than a satisfied customer!

While from an innovation perspective, the most important hurdle—de-risking an idea and proving it has potential—has just been taken, this is unfortunately the moment when most professionals exit the innovation process. They have proven that their idea works, applied it in practice and are ready to move on.

In fact, upon success your innovation is probably ready to be used by a larger audience within or outside your organization,and the beginning of positive change.


Professionals Innovate | Innovation for Professional Service Firms



To avoid that innovation strand after the development phase, we suggest the following approach for implementation:

  1. Celebrate: Celebrate your success and create publicity for it.
  2. Generalize: Prepare your innovation for reuse, by identifying its generalizable and idiosyncratic elements.
  3. Teach: Educate your fellow professionals on how to adopt the innovation.

Following this process ensures that successful innovation efforts do not end with the first customer. During implementation. innovations get transformed into generalizable applications that help create value for your organization. Implementation is the most complex and extensive part of the innovation process in professional service organizations; don’t abandon it too soon.

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This process of idea generation, development and implementation is how professionals innovate.

Interested in learning more? Organizing4Innovation is specialized in the innovation management needs and challenges of professional service organizations. Feel free to contact us at info”at”organizing4innovation”dot”com, or visit our website at

Professionals Innovate | Innovation for Professional Service Firms


Weick, Sensemaking in organizations 1995

Organizing4Innovation approach to innovation management 2014