Most people don't think of innovation as a process. It is frequently considered to be something that is spontaneous, that happens when you get the right people together at the right time. I was listening to the show IT conversations on NPR last night driving back from Sacramento when they began talking about managing innovation as a process.
In a book called Managing Innovation as a Process, a book I am going to pick up, Robert Shelton talks about how to put together and manage a team of innovators. One of the more interesting things that he talks about is how incremental innovators are different than big, global innovators. In the interview, Shelton says that incremental innovators, people who make something faster, cheaper, or lighter, can be motivated with really specific drivers, so that a manager could say something to the effect of “If you can produce 300 of those widgets, you will get another $100.” This can motivate someone to a near goal, but it will fail to motivate your other type of innovator. Someone who is a big thinker, but who will frequently come up with ideas that just won't pan out. One of the traits Shelton says identifies the global innovators is that they crave recognition more than money. So that the managment process for these individuals would be different. I began to think about myself, and how I love recognition from my peers and superiors, I love when they let me run with my ideas. Granted, this doesn't happen every time, but when it does, I'm often at my happiest. I guess that is why whenever I have an idea I start developing on my own, I figure that one of my ideas will really pop eventually.
Getting back to the interview, it would probably be prudent then for companies to have research groups consisting of these global thinkers. Then, give them a project manager, so that they can get their ideas out and into a business model that can be produced. Then they can be free to lead their development team through the building process, and hopefully can change the world with their ideas. This really caught my attention, not only because of my personal background, but because I can see how this setup could really work.
Another point he made was that often the most innovative companies have a driving force that gives their innovation direction. For example, if I were leading a group, the most important thing for me to have would be a clear vision of what needed to be built. Once the leader has a clear vision, and can communicate that vision to the engineers, they are halfway there. Apparently the other half of the equation is to keep to that path until the goal is reached. Often innovators will get sidetracked, so it is critical to have a leader who knows exactly what they want to see.
This book sounds very interesting, and explains some of how the bay area, specifically silicon valley got to be the way it is. Also, to a degree why the west coast style of business management, and corporate culture seems to lead to more innovation than the east coast corporate culture. It was an interesting inteview that you can listen to here.