What is innovation management and why is it needed

Steve Jobs once said that ‘Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.’ Wise words, but no matter how creative and groundbreaking your innovative ideas may be, they require effective innovation management to actually come into fruition.

Charlie de Rusett
by Charlie de Rusett

Whether you’re new to the topic or looking for a refresh to prepare for the year ahead, we cover the essentials of managing innovation. Answering the elusive question ‘what is innovation management?’ but also exploring the benefits and importance of innovation management.

What is Innovation Management?

To fully understand what innovation management is, we need to first explore the meaning of ‘innovation’ in a business context. According to The Merriam-Webster dictionary,

“Innovation is the introduction of something new”

but it’s not just something new. If it were, wearing a new pair of shoes on a Monday could be considered ‘innovative’. When, as dapper as you may look in said shoes, there’s nothing innovative about it. Innovation is a term that represents something new but also something different and useful. The exciting and groundbreaking stuff that sets your business apart from the competition.

With this in mind, innovation management is the process of managing those innovative ideas. The planning and process behind coming up with ideas, turning them into action plans and developing them for the business until they become a reality. Making it happen.

The importance of innovation management

Overall innovation within the business is the ‘different’ and ‘brave’ projects that traditionally have been undervalued but are now understood to offer greater value to the bottom line. Not just in terms of living your brand values and driving customer experience or brand awareness, but also the impact it can have on staff morale. Innovation has the potential to not only make employees happier and reduce staff turnover. It can also be a vehicle to attract top talent that is more likely to want to work for a business successfully driving forward innovation. They then become loyal employees who value the opportunity to be a part of the innovation process. Empowering employees to be innovative is a big part of why we do what we do here at Idea Drop, giving them the innovation management tools to transform ideas into reality.

Beyond this, there is a range of benefits from successful innovation that includes:

  1. Resolving recurring problems in the business with creative solutions
  2. Increasing workplace productivity with new processes and procedures
  3. Showcasing business values and highlighting your qualities
  4. Standing out as an innovative business ahead of the competition
  5. Boosting employee morale and improving business performance as a consequence

All cracking reasons to encourage innovation in your business, but all of this potential can only be reached with effective innovation management processes in place. The importance of innovation management, therefore, is that it’s the only way you are going to transform big ideas into reality and benefit from the positive outcomes.

Understanding the different types of innovation

It’s a common misconception that a business is either innovative or not innovative. A simplistic perspective that doesn’t account for the varying types of innovation that may or may not be outwardly obvious as ‘innovative’. The nuances of innovation management are very much linked to the different types of innovation. Here’s a breakdown of those types and their translation into what they actually mean in a business context, to help you navigate just how far-reaching your innovation management strategy can go:

1. Incremental innovation: improvements to existing mechanisms

This is the most common type of innovation because it is less daunting and a more realistic way of bringing about innovation. Incremental innovation -is to spot opportunities for improvements within existing tools, processes, technology and markets. This is something your business may be doing already without labelling it as ‘innovation’. However, often small ideas get lost or forgotten if there’s no clear process in place on how to capture, curate and manage them. Incremental innovation is subtle but effective and still requires a level of innovation management. To help transform ideas into action but also ensure that there’s a feedback loop back to the employee who came up with the idea in the first place.

2. Disruptive innovation: a bold move that rocks the boat

The most widely known example of this type of innovation is Apple’s iPhone, which was the first to move away from buttons, keypads and scroll wheels. Also known as stealth innovation, disruptive innovation is often expensive and considered superior to anything else in existence. It’s not just new to you, it’s new full stop. Internally, however, this could be something other businesses are already using but it’s new to you. It’s disruptive to the operation of the business and therefore holds more risk if it isn’t managed effectively.

3. Architectural innovation: using proven technology in a new way

This type of innovation is about positioning. The technology itself is already used and effective in other areas of the market or your business. One of your departments, for instance, could already be using collaborative technology that you decide to implement across the business or use to build a customer-facing community. Architectural innovation is taking something that already works and using it in a different way or with a different user base and market. The risks are lower because you know the technology works, you just need to adapt and prepare it for the needs of the alternative user base.

4. Radical innovation: the mind-blowing stuff that breaks ground

Beyond just being ‘disruptive’, radical innovation is what many consider to be true innovation. It’s where new industries are born and entire movements are created. It’s where some of the greatest entrepreneurs and innovators like to play. It’s high risk but also holds high reward for anyone able to pull it off. The first air plane, the first mobile phone, the first laptop and tablet are all examples of radical innovation. What’s often missing with radical innovation is radical innovation management. Even the most creative ideas need process and structure to pull them off in reality.

Viewing innovation under these four categories highlights the many opportunities for innovation in your business, but also how important it is to have effective innovation management in place. If you’re struggling to get started or jump-start innovation in your business, you could begin with incremental innovation and later introduce more disruptive ideas that can drive the business forward.

The lifecycle of innovation management

Many businesses have the want to innovate but operational pressures and external requests take precedence. Justifying budget and finding time to actually implement innovative ideas is a struggle for many businesses. The full lifecycle of innovation includes four key elements that help drive them from an initial idea to action and a successful end result. These are:

  • Ideation
  • Collaboration
  • Implementation
  • Value creation

Our idea management software takes this further by breaking these phases down into incremental steps. Taking you through each stage of development in a way that is both concise and manageable but also likely to inspire your next move. These include:

  • Sharing challenges, strategic business goals and objectives – moving ideas through the funnel so only the best and most relevant ones come to fruition.
  • Gaining feedback and sharing learnings – leading you to collate feedback at every step and sharing gained knowledge with the relevant stakeholders. Enabling a well-defined innovation management process that doesn’t stagnate and develops in an ever-evolving and innovative way.
  • Managing key stakeholder expectations – while you don’t need everyone to be actively involved in the process, values and key measures should be communicated from the outset. Idea Drop keeps everything moving through the funnel with confidence and accuracy. This also means you can measure the results and report on progress.

Being innovative with Innovation Management

Key learnings:

  • Innovation isn’t just something new, it’s something different and useful
  • Innovation management is the process of managing innovative ideas
  • Innovation can improve productivity, create new revenue streams, increase employee loyalty, save costs
  • Successful innovation management will transform big ideas into reality
  • The 4 types of innovation are incremental, disruptive, architectural and radical
  • The full lifecycle of innovation management includes collaboration, ideation, implementation and value creation

Innovation management is the key to turning innovative ideas into action, but only if it is done well. Like any management process, it needs the right tools in place to facilitate progress.

Ironically many businesses are keen to innovate but not very innovative about their approach to innovation management. To truly make progress on creative ideas and get the best out of new technology, you need the right innovation management software to make it happen.

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