Innovation is one of those concepts that can be difficult to precisely define, especially in terms of business value. Just about everyone would agree that the ability to innovate by developing new or different solutions to real-world problems is a competitive differentiator. But does innovation happen by accident? Or can innovation be managed and stimulated with the right process and discipline?
Some of the greatest innovations in history happened by accident. In 1945, a Navy engineer started developing the microwave oven when a magnetron used in radars produced enough heat to melt a chocolate bar in his pocket. While innovation by accident can and does happen, innovation in a business setting is more likely to happen on purpose through strategic planning and management.
Purposeful, strategic innovation begins with clearly defining innovation in a business context. More than simply introducing something new, innovation is a process of developing and implementing a new solution to a problem in a way that creates business value. In a business context, usefulness and relevance are just as important as newness or novelty. Of course, newness is still important. If something isn’t new, it’s probably an improvement on something that already existed. Such an improvement may have value, but it’s not necessarily an innovation.
Once you’ve defined innovation, you can implement a strategy for managing innovation. Innovation management enables an organization to take advantage of business opportunities by successfully managing the processes involved in innovation. These processes include the cultivation of an idea, development of a solution, strategic planning for implementation, and changing business processes to enable the new solution to be deployed.
Effective innovation management will ensure new or modified business processes are repeatable and sustainable. It helps you create a culture that stimulates innovative thinking, welcomes new ideas from all employees, and ensures resources are available to support innovation initiatives. It drives the creation of systems, accounting for people, process and technology that enable innovation to be efficiently developed and implemented.
Idea management follows the same principles but differs from innovation management. While idea management focuses on the sharing, evaluation, implementation, monitoring and optimization of new ideas, innovation management is a far broader concept that includes ideas but focuses on the larger solution. Consequently, idea management should be considered a key component of innovation management, not an interchangeable term.
Innovation management software can help you advance innovation initiatives by organizing all innovation-related data in a secure, centralized platform. This software is a hub for the submission, evaluation, development, implementation and management of innovative solutions and processes. Workflows can be configured and modified through innovation software, while collaboration features allow users to brainstorm, offer feedback and track activity. The key is to incorporate the perspectives and expertise of the appropriate internal and external stakeholders without opening up a project to too many contributors. This can make the project difficult to manage and stifle innovation.
Solving complex business problems through innovation is a process that can and should be controlled, managed, tracked and optimized. With the right innovation management process and software, organizations can accelerate these initiatives and quickly roll out new solutions to gain an edge in the marketplace.