Innovation is often compared to lightning or flying sparks—spontaneous and uncontrollable. While randomness and serendipity clearly play a role in innovation, and no single analytical tool can innovate for you, we believe that the innovation process can be managed effectively by using a set of scientific principles and analytical tools. This book is a guide to the key scientific principles that underlie successful innovation. We aspire to provide solid frameworks and methods for mastering innovation, supported by logic and empirical evidence.
Our motivation for this approach to innovation arises from our professional backgrounds. We have invented products, started companies, and helped hundreds of companies innovate more effectively. But in what sometimes feels like a double life, we have also taught about 10,000 MBA students about process flows, bottlenecks, and quality improvement processes. In a sense we have been innovators trapped in the bodies of operations management professors. This book harmonizes our two passions—innovation and process management. Our goal is to push readers to apply the rigorous approaches they bring to operations, marketing, and finance to the management of innovation.
The notion of an innovation process presents an apparent contradiction: innovation is fundamentally concerned with creating new things, but a process does the same things repeatedly. This contradiction is resolved by viewing the process at the right level of abstraction. For most of this book, we will focus on the concept of an opportunity. In pharmaceuticals, the opportunity is a newly discovered chemical compound. In Hollywood, it’s the storyline for a movie. For a consumer products company, it might be a newly expressed customer need, perhaps in response to new information about health. For a venture capital firm, it’s a business plan submitted by a startup. Within an organization, each opportunity differs in terms of the specific need addressed or solution deployed, but a set of standard actions can apply to managing these opportunities within the innovation process. Movie scripts may differ in their characters and plots, but the process of creating a movie can be broken down into a standardized sequence of innovation phases—script development, pre-production, production, and so forth. Indeed when viewed as a process for managing a collection of opportunities, innovation looks very similar across sectors, whether movies, pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, or venture capital.
Don’t misread us. We are not arguing for a standardization of the fine structure of innovation tasks. Passion, creativity, art, and serendipity will continue to play critical roles in the creation of value. Our argument is that when abstracted sufficiently, the management of opportunities on which innovation tasks are focused can be somewhat standardized and systematized. A key challenge is to derive the benefits of this standardization without limiting the potential for creative magic at the level of the individual innovation project.
The major benefit of taking the process view of innovation is that it supports performance measurement, analysis, and process improvement. Rigor transformed the management of production in the 20th Century. We believe a similar rigor can transform the management of innovation in the 21st Century.