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Innovation – The innovation process – Part 2

I am on the topic of entrenching innovation as a process in the organisation.  The objective of innovation activities is to create and sustain a competitive advantage over competitors so innovation cannot be a one-time, serendipitous event anymore; it must be entrenched in the “business as usual” practices of the organisation.  The reality is that innovation processes are not necessarily always clear and defined and neither structured nor linear, so in this article I want to go into more detail of some of the more widely-used innovation processes.
The innovation process
Although the innovation process will not be exactly the same for every organisation, there are some common denominators for every innovation process.  Let us first look at some of the more well-known processes found in the academic literature.
Mann proposed a four-step process, namely Define; Select Tool; Generate Solutions and Evaluate. The process starts with a perceived need for something to happen, followed by a clear definition of the right problem, selecting the most appropriate tools to help people to solve it, generating solutions and finally identifying the best solution. Mann’s model does not cover the early stage of opportunity definition and subsequent stages of implementation and further exploitation of newly developed technologies/products.  Brandenburg proposed a seven-stage model, known as the W-Model. The W-Model forms a continuous circle that builds in strategic planning for immediate and future innovation projects and creates a further input for the W-Model. Hansen and Birkinshaw viewed innovation as a value chain comprising three phases, namely Idea Generation, Idea Conversion and Idea Diffusion. The aim of the Idea Generation phase is to generate ideas from various sources. During the Idea Conversion phase, the major tasks are screening and funding of ideas and developing ideas into viable products, services, or businesses. In the Idea Diffusion phase, the developed ideas are spread within and outside the company to receive buy in.  Langdon Morris, co-founder of InnovationLabs LLC, one of the world’s leading innovation consultancies, described the method of creating innovation as “to discover, create and develop ideas, to refine them into useful forms and to use them to earn profits, increase efficiency and/or reduce costs”.  
Based on the above, one can see that there are many published methodologies for innovation and they vary in details, however, in principle, they all share a common model, with five essential processes:  Challenge or opportunity recognition; Generate ideas; Evaluate and select ideas; Develop and implement innovations; and Diffuse and socialise innovations.
It is evident that organisations are struggling with the concept of discplined innovatio and do not always utilise the value of having a structured or defined innovation process. Gary Hamel observed that many organisations are still approaching innovation in a piecemeal fashion and that innovation efforts are incomplete or isolated; and that the innovation process is in need of some innovation itself.  Obviously, managing a process of this scope and complexity will be a challenge for any organisation. However, in the business environment it is evident that there are organisations that do this extraordinarily well and that it is certainly possible to improve and excel in developing an innovation process.
My advice would be to start by putting a “light” process in place, incorporating the five processes mentioned above.  People will soon see the gaps and start to refine the model to fit the organsiation’s specific way of doing things.  The important thing is to keep at it and to let the process become entrenched.
Next Time
Based on the “generic” innovation process, it is clear that generation of ideas is a crucial phase of the innovation process.  Next time, I want to focus on identifying an opportunity or a challenge (I don’t want to use the word “problem”) and the generation of ideas within the innovation process.  I conclude with a point to ponder from Peter Drucker:  “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all”.

Brandenburg, F. 2002. Methodology for planning to technological product innovation. Aachen: Shaker Verlag.
Hamel, G. & LaBarre, P. 2012. Help us innovate the innovation process. Harvard Business Review. [Online] Available:
Hansen, M.T. & Birkinshaw, J. 2007. The innovation value chain. Harvard Business Review, 85(6), 121-130.
Harris, K. & Rozwell, C. 2009. Managing Innovation: A Primer, 2009 Update. USA: Gartner Research.
Mann, D. 2007. Hands-on systematic innovation. Devon: IFR Press.
Morris, L. 2011. The Innovation Master Plan: The CEO’s Guide to Innovation. 2011. Walnut Creek, USA: Innovation Academy.

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