Introduction to the 10 Tenets of Innovation

-December 30, 2010

I’d like to offer my thanks to everyone who has read and commented on my Product Development Leadership blog over the past few months while we discussed my 10 Tenets of Leadership. I’d also like to continue the great exchange by moving on to my 10 Tenets of Innovation. I hope you will enjoy and take part in the discussion through your comments.

An innovative environment

An environment conducive to high levels of innovation will occasionally spring up by accident, driven by a few key individual contributors, and without a great deal of forethought by the managers involved. But more typically, our choices as managers will determine the level of innovation our people display. An innovative environment requires more than just hiring the right imaginative people and hoping they will create brilliant products, services, and processes. It demands the sponsorship of leaders in the organization and the recognition of the value of creative thought. Our procedures, our statements, our attitudes, our reward and penalty systems all affect how innovative our people will be. However, we may not always understand and consider the impact of our actions as managers on the innovative environment. People either modify their behaviors to fit what their leaders seem to demand or they self-select out of the organization.

Of course, our work tasks in product development won’t always require creative or innovative thought. Rather, as some authors have suggested, we might sort our tasks into either algorithmic (those that can be executed by following clearly articulated steps) or creative (those requiring the development of a non-obvious solution) categories. Obviously, there is a spectrum between these two extremes. The nature of product development is to expect more of the creative tasks early in the development process, with the hope that we can drive toward more of the algorithmic tasks later in the process as we eliminate risk and implement for commercialization. The tenets that follow speak mainly to creating the right environment for these creative and high-risk tasks.

We can purposefully create a great environment for innovation. While creating this environment, you need to answer four questions:

  • What is the norm for innovation in your industry? Too much emphasis on innovation may not pay needed returns, so how much emphasis is enough?
  • What is the ideal environment to ignite innovation among your engineers and scientists?
  • How do you achieve this ideal environment, yet keep it in balance with other expectations by your sponsors?
  • How do you explain the value of investment in high-risk innovation projects to your sponsors so that it may be measured on concrete quarterly performance?

Many people, including some of your sponsors, will not understand the answers to these basic questions. And to answer them, you need to begin by thinking of invention very differently than implementation.

What do you demand by your actions, attitudes, and reward systems? Do you support well-reasoned risk-taking? Or do you manage solely by holding people accountable for what they said could be the best-case result?

10 Tenets of Innovation

These 10 tenets are at the core of my management philosophy. Although I will expand on each of these in subsequent blog posts, I hope that you will think of them only as a starting point rather than a complete flight plan. I would encourage you to consider your own ideals and put them on paper to act as your own navigation system when flying through stormy weather.

Here are my 10 Tenets of Innovation:

1. Plan on failure; be delighted with success.
2. Fail often; fail early.
3. Recognize that trust is a prerequisite for innovation.
4. Accept that hierarchy and position are irrelevant and may be the enemy.
5. Realize that innovation is not always customer driven.
6. Hire a diverse workforce and watch for opportunities in the intersections.
7. Understand that ideas come from everywhere.
8. Create a “yes, if” environment rather than a “no” environment.
9. Give your people the time and resources they need.
10. Recognize that innovation can be managed.

My next post will address Tenet #1. I hope you will visit this site frequently and participate through your comments.

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