Innovation management: The true adventures are in your head

Innovation New Ways of Working Creativity

Dr. Brandner, isn’t the word innovation management contradictory in itself? How can innovation be managed?
Innovation management deals with creative corporate processes, with changes, irritations, and new approaches. It is rather about departing from old patterns, doing away with routine and surmounting barriers on many levels – both with respect to concepts and structures. The process of how the whole matter evolves is naturally often diffuse and difficult to grasp. On the one hand, innovation management must ensure a corporate environment enabling innovation while on the other innovation must be identified and launched on its way to subsequently ensure its implementation and realisation.

Has the subject of "innovation management" thus become a key theme over the past few years?
The concept of innovation management actually dates back to the Austrian national economist Josef Alois Schumpeter, whose concept of the entrepreneur – the driving force of the economy – being the one to implement change by new combinations is 90 years old. In this respect, Schumpeter includes all the components – products, processes, structures, selling markets, and sources of supply.

Time has obviously changed in the meantime. And it is usually not the entrepreneur but the people working in a company who are the innovators! Management today has neither got the time nor the highly complex knowledge base required; its task is to enable innovation within the company, to achieve its fast acceptance on the market – through sound infrastructure, for example, room for action, clear innovation processes and incentives for innovation, leadership etc.

In that regard, how is an innovation-friendly environment best described?
The point is that innovation must become an integral part of a company’s corporate culture. This implies, on the one hand, that management must be fully aware of the importance of innovation to the company, its customers, or its actions on the market. At Hewlett Packard this even implies integrating the word "invent" into the company logo – as a call for action to the company internally! HP staff who excel in development tasks are put on a high pedestal, earning praise and bonuses.

Indeed internally, the required room for creative thinking can only be achieved if decision-makers make sure these requirements are actually met: mental, perhaps also physical room for action, including areas of retreat, for recreation and communication. An optimal approach is to make innovation part and parcel of everyday corporate culture; including suggestions to staff signalling the key importance the company attaches to creative thinking.

Another major requirement is that innovation management, indeed a branch of knowledge management, combines all corporate "sources of knowledge" in support of creative processes, thus enabling inter-individual knowledge transfer.
Hence, in "bundling all forces", innovation management must also bring the right experts of a company together so as to channel creative efforts into the right direction.

Talking about the "right direction": In your opinion, what can innovation management achieve?
Essentially innovation management makes sure a company innovates faster than competitors can copy. It is only in some sectors that patents allow protection from copying. Depending on the sector, annual sales figures should predominantly represent products not older than a year.

Therefore it is important to define clear goals as to where the creative journey goes and to ensure that all conditions are met - in terms of strategy, process and human resources; this will enable the scheduling of product management, training, internal communication and market communication, eventually also including evaluation of results. Innovation must equally be subjected to a company’s controlling as any other process.
After all, nothing is more detrimental than "success" stories based on fiction.

Dr. Brandner, thank you for the interview!