The Management of Innovation: the Innovator's Perception
Much has been written about what innovation is, its purpose and how it is or should be managed. This paper investigates innovation from the bottom up, exploring the views and aspirations of a group of practitioners. Working with a publically funded research and development organisation, the researchers were engaged as consultants to investigate how innovative the organisation was and to consider how innovative it should be. To do this it was necessary to understand the perspective of the engineers, scientists and managers within the organisation. Detailed structured interviews were conducted with four section managers and eleven of their staff. A widely accepted definition of innovation is “the successful exploitation of new ideas”. To this, interviewees added “something new or novel” showing a closer attention to the “doing” of innovation and perhaps closer to a traditional definition of ‘invention’ than that of innovation above. Views varied across our sample. For some innovation = invention, science is key and specialist skills are all important. To others innovation takes on a broader meaning which can incorporate finding a solution to a client problem by changing the organisation’s business model. This might include, for example, improving the capacity for project management while outsourcing scientific/technical activity to Universities or other providers. The research findings focus on five aspects of the innovation environment. from which were formed four basic recommendations for an organisation that sets out to improve its innovation performance. First, its internal information strategy must not impede the connections that innovators need to make, including the capture of knowledge, the sharing of ideas and the prevention of silos. The ‘silo mentality’ which is highlighted by some staff suggests a need for better internal communication and training in two areas. The first is in customer relationship management, and the second is in internal procedures and levels of confidentiality. There was evidence of unnecessary self restriction which could hamper innovation. Secondly training can be used to develop specific skills particularly where the payback is recognised to be further into the future than for much regular training. Innovators were found to have substantially different training needs than other professional colleagues. The scope of supported training opportunities and flexibility in work direction clearly motivate staff. For professional training, greater use could be made of contracted training focussing on the differing professional needs where there is a mismatch in provision. The third recommendation was that early innovators need to work with senior managers who understand their professional skills. In an academic environment, young researchers benefit from a subject expert who can steer the scientific content of their research. From the interviews, there is the impression that some new recruits to the organisation, working at a post doctoral level, would benefit from similar support within their discipline. Professional isolation inhibited those who could become resourceful and confident innovators. The final recommendation is that senior managers need to identify and gain a consensus around what innovation means in their organisation and communicate this clearly to staff before it can become more innovative.