Innovation management is developing and implementing routine systems and structures to help bring predictability to innovation. It’s interesting – a generation ago innovation management would be perceived as an oxymoron. There was such a stench of randomness around innovation that trying to manage it just seemed impossible. Things have really changed. Academics have unearthed patterns that separate success from failures. Practitioners have turned those patterns into practical tools and approaches that allow people to treat innovation as a discipline. “Early adopters” like Procter & Gamble and Cisco Systems have shown how to do this at scale. It’s a pretty remarkable time to be in the innovation field!
People involved in innovation tend to be very passionate about what they do. I feel blessed to be able to spend so much time with so many interesting people that are determined to challenge the status quo. I also feel like we’re making meaningful progress against an issue that really matters to the world’s future. The great problems of today – poverty, climate change, health care access, and so on – will only be solved by innovation. Finally, while I think there is much greater clarity then there was a generation ago, there still are fascinating puzzles that remain unsolved.
There’s a huge body of work on which practitioners can draw, but I still find too many people making too many obvious mistakes. It’s convinced me that a large part of the problem is the accessibility of the innovation literature. I think most of the big innovation questions have been answered; that there is a tool for just about every problem. But too many of these things are “locked up” in densely written books (some of which I’ve written!), or in individual’s heads. The other frustration is when people kill innovation by studying it to death. As Edison reminds us, genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration. Some companies think that their problem is a lack of ideas. That’s rarely the real problem. The real problem is doing something with the great ideas they have.
It’s not a single challenge – it’s actually a three-pronged challenge. First, we are trying to prove through the small venture fund we manage on behalf of the Singapore government that taking a systematic approach can allow non-expert venture investors to beat traditional venture capital returns. We have made a half-dozen investments to date, and are working to shepherd those investments to successful outcomes. Second, I am working on a book tentatively titled Cracking Innovation’s Black Box, which is intended to offer a more personal take on innovation in a simple, accessible manner. Finally, and most interestingly from my perspective, we’re working on creating a service offering that helps large companies with some of the execution-related challenges related to innovation. We’re calling it Innosight Labs. The core IP behind it will be summarized in a book we are tentatively scheduling for 2012 called Paving the First Mile. Add on top of that adjusting to living in Singapore (where we moved in March of this year), and it’s more than enough to keep me busy!