Volume 11, Number 5
seldom hears much about management development in discussions of
the presumption is that management is just fine, or possibly that
managers are either incapable of, or somehow exempt from,
attending to all the day-to-day needs of the organization, too few
high-level managers tend to the care and feeding of their own
skills. If innovation
is as important to success as we believe it is, should we not
direct at least some effort to developing the management skills
necessary to stimulate and nurture innovation throughout the
should be a concerted effort to develop management awareness and
knowledge of at least the basic requirements for nurturing and
sustaining an innovative organization.
Factors Involved in Nurturing Innovation
volumes have addressed the role of the executive in business
today, so there is little point in reiterating common themes.
There are, though, several points specifically related to
nurturing and fostering innovation that are worthy of more
attention. In no
important order of importance, they are:
look at each of these.
understanding of the process of innovation.
is the upper managerís personal understanding of the process and
activity of innovation itself.
If you have little interest in or regard for the process of
innovation, then it is unreasonable to presume you can lead and
manage innovation to superior results.
How does innovation come about?
Can it be structuredópursued methodically? How can you manage something you donít understand?
The managerís learning process is enhanced considerably
when innovators help managers learn more about what innovators do,
how they do it, and how it contributes to company success.
learning and study. Continuous
learning is the hallmark of every great executive.
Maybe there was a time when the senior management could
coast along on skills and knowledge acquired long ago, but if that
was ever true it certainly is not now.
Managers who sharpen their skills continuously can be
confident they will remain valuable contributors.
is better managed by those with diverse interests and a curious
nature. Itís not
possible to fake interest in innovative ideas and projects when
the managerís heart just isnít in it.
The manager must be genuinely interested in possibilities
to value innovation. The
manager who is always interested in new things and new ways will
invariably find it easier to develop and maintain a closer
relationship with innovators in their organization.
Similarly, the manager must be receptive. The innovative organization thrives on openness to the new
and novel, openness to criticism and suggestion, and openness to
learning from everyone and anyone.
A manager who is open to new possibilities and to hearing
from others is much more able to foster such an attitude in those
working under her.
implies an interest or even passion for progress and for useful
ideas. Continual improvement of organizational capabilities and
competitive prowess is achieved through leadership. Leading an innovative organization certainly calls for even
more of these qualities.
of strategic issues rather than operational tasks.
A focus on the important and strategic rather than the
operational is the mark of an effective upper manager.
By important, we donít imply that nonexecutive
tasks are not important, but rather that the executive must, to do
the job well, focus on those responsibilities that only the
executive can accomplish. Every
moment the executive spends doing nonexecutive work is wasted. Generally, if someone else can do the work, the executive
should not be doing it. When
the uniquely executive work is not getting done, the organization
is the worse for it.
an organization be highly innovative within an environment hostile
to creativity and innovation? We do not believe so, at least not beyond the random acts of
innovation that might peek through in spite of the environment.
Can anyone but executive management create the environment
for innovation? No.
Subordinates may try, but significant innovation cannot be
sustained without a companywide appreciation of the benefits, the
reason, the purpose. That
sense of perspective cannot be established entirely by lower-level
managers, no matter how dedicated, if they do not receive
commensurate support from the top.
Tapestry of Contradictions
is nothing if not the art of manipulating contradictions into a
coherent and efficient system to provide something someone wants.
Here are a few of the contradictions confronting managers
these contradictions are resolved, also determines the climate for
managers know that Solomon-like decisions are never really an
either-or proposition. Instead,
sound decisions are nearly always a balancing act that places the
specific situation somewhere between the two polar extremes.
key dimensions determine the real environment for innovation.
look at the four dimensions.
generally perceived level of control.
Control issues are typically anathema to ďcreative
typesĒ if only because control is the antithesis of flexibility.
Flexibility offers the means and the time to nurture
inflexible organizations are emblematic of bureaucracy, and
bureaucracy is hostile to creativity and innovation.
The bureaucratic behemoths are the poster companies for
in thinking, inflexibility in action, and inflexibility in seeing
are all disabling afflictions.
Finding an efficient and supportive balance between control
and flexibility is one aspect of good management.
strategy and strategic vision provide clarity and purpose, but
taken to extreme, clarity can engender blindness to new or
serendipitous events and developments that provide grist for the
innovation mill. With
strategic focus, more is usually better than less, but on a scale
of one to ten, few managers would seek a perfect score.
The efficiently innovative organization is focused, not
fixated like a doe caught in the headlights.
The purpose of strategy is not to preclude innovation but
to encourage it within bounds determined by organizational goals.
operational structure of the organization.
Organizational structure is seldom neutral.
It can encourage or discourage innovation.
Systems theory places considerable emphasis on the idea
that structure produces behavior.
refers to the structure of the system, which is more encompassing
than just the organization chart. It also includes the operating policies.
In this respect, system structure has the power to redefine
and redesign itself through the decisions of managers.
encouraging unhealthy competitive attitudes are less supportive of
cooperation and innovation. Strict
functional structures often create barriers that, while supportive
of the function, may unintentionally discourage new ideas and
controls and procedures allocating resources are particularly
susceptible to the creation of mischief.
to and quality of corporate strategy.
Knowledge of the purpose of oneís work is essential to
stimulating useful innovation.
Sound corporate strategies, communications to employees in
clear and relevant language provides the foundation for individual
contributions to those strategies.
People need to know where the organization is trying to go
and how it is trying to get there before they can steer their
innovation efforts in that direction. We all have probably encountered organizations where most of
the employees knew nothing about the goals and strategies
(presuming there were some), but were criticized for being slow to
overall level of organizational focus.
Focus sets the stage for either an internal or external
orientation. A market
focus is arguably the greatest stimulus to innovation because it
orients attention to serving new customer needs and/or solving new
customer problems, thus creating value.
Just as necessity is the mother of invention, there is no
substitute for understanding your customers as a springboard to
good and marketable innovation.
Excerpted from THE BUSINESS OF INNOVATION by Roger Bean and Russell Radford. Copyright 2002 Roger Bean and Russell Radford. Published by AMACOM Books, a division of American Management Association International, New York, NY. Used with permission. All rights reserved.