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The corporate innovation manager

I have written many articles on how organisations should innovate, looking at things like aligning innovation to strategy, the appropriate culture, leadership, incentivising innovation, generating and evaluating ideas, etc. However, these days, with innovation being such an important issue for organisations, many organisations have a dedicated person to drive innovation and to achieve and establish all these things I write about and I have never given attention to this role in the organisation. It is a position most probably unheard of 10 years ago, and they are usually given titles such as “Innovation Manager” or “Chief Innovation Officer” and I want to commit this article to them and the daunting challenge they have.
Innovation Manager
Although the concept of innovation has long been part of the corporate lexicon, the inclusion of a Chief Innovation Officer (or similar) position at the executive level, demonstrates an increased understanding and appreciation of the discipline of innovation and its importance for organisational competitiveness and ultimately its survival.
There are different approaches amongst organisations in terms of what the innovation manager actually does, but in my view, the innovation manager is the ultimate change agent, and has three distinct roles. Firstly, to keep an eye on customer / consumer tendencies and new technologies. He must help the organisation to apprehend customer behaviour trends and leverage the new technologies that are affecting its business. Secondly, to educate and inform. He should be educating and informing employees as to what innovation is, the different tools and skills they require to innovate, and make it understandable in light of their daily challenges.  Thirdly, to change culture, structure, processes and environment. He must work on changing an organisation’s culture, structure, processes and physical space in order to foster more collaborative working relationships, risk-taking behaviour, the collisions that lead to innovative ideas, and the teamwork that facilitates execution of ideas. A daunting challenge indeed. So how should an innovation manager go about to achieve success? Jeffrey Baumgartner hits it on the head for me with his three choices for the kind of innovation manager you want to be.

1. Cautiously Ineffectual. This is the easiest approach. You implement an idea management system to capture ideas from employees, you run brainstorms and you hire a corporate creativity trainer to run a few conventional creativity workshops.
2. Serious About Innovation. The serious innovation manager understands the constraints to innovation in her organisation, but also recognises opportunities. With an understanding of corporate innovation and knowledge of what is realistically capable of within the company, the serious innovation manager takes innovation to the next step. He focuses idea generation on corporate strategic vision and she struggles to find ways to ensure more ideas are implemented.
3. The Innovative Innovation Manager. He identifies barriers to innovation in her organisation and tries to break them down or work out ways around those barriers. In particular, He looks at the barriers that prevent creative ideas from being taken seriously, let alone implemented. He tries to launch initiatives that work, such as skunkworks, innovative business plan competitions and training programmes that go beyond the usual creativity workshops. He really tries to make her employer more innovative and tries to change things in a big way in an organisation full of people who do not like change very much. So which one are you going to be?

Next Time
I trust you now have a better understanding of what an innovation manager does and the extreme challenges this role entails.  The reality, however, is that the innovation manager cannot do everything on his or her own, but is usually supported by an innovation team. So next time I will discuss the innovation team, its roles and responsibilities. I conclude with a quote from John Quincy Adams: “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader”.

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