There is a lot of noise in our world today about innovation, particularly technological innovation. Undoubtedly, technology is a powerful aid to sustain transformation, but we need to understood what innovation really means. As we complete our series on a new curriculum for managers and leaders, we have to consider the question of innovation and technology as a fundamental part of the education process.
Innovation and technological innovation are only really such when they remove an inherent limitation in the field they are supposed to innovate (the way H. G. Wells’ time machine removes the limitation of time and space). Unless it does so, a product or service may be new but not, in fact, an innovation.
Innovation Can (and Must) Be Learned
An innovation is required because in a current reality, people are experiencing undesirable effects. Through a structured and systemic analysis of these undesirable effects, we can unveil the underlying needs that are not being satisfied. When we develop a new solution that addresses these needs and by so doing removes a limitation, then we have an innovation. A process of innovation does not have to rely on genius and inspiration. It can be learned and applied in a continuous way. The cycle of the Thinking Process Tools from the Theory of Constraints is a highly effective method to continuously identify undesirable effects, reveal needs and challenge the mental models/assumptions that lead to blockage. This pattern of thinking can be used to achieve breakthrough in any field. Never like today do managers and leaders need to have the skill of building innovation as it is required.
Why We Need to Change Our Thinking
Innovation, as we have said, addresses a limitation. The stranglehold of this limitation, or ”the constraint” is today more often than not generated not by the lack of technology available or a shortage of innovation thinking but rather by the inability of our cognitive faculties to receive and implement that technology. (Just think of how many things your computer is able to do and that you don’t know how to use.) Hence, a true technological innovation can only go hand in hand with the ability that people have to transform their thinking so they can best leverage the power of that innovation.
What we advocate within post-grad courses as well as executive education is a much greater emphasis on the cognitive upgrade rather than software upgrade. Software upgrades today happen way faster than our current ability to make good use of them.
In summary, the systematic development of an innovation, technological or otherwise, should always start from a precisely identified limitation it aims to address and the careful study of the organizational and behavioural implications that the innovation entails. Masters and MBAs on innovation should, first and foremost, concentrate on the process of developing a deployable innovation. This is a solution that the Decalogue methodology has been providing for organizations for almost two decades. Innovation can and must be a continuous process. That may sound disconcerting but it is also at the heart of what makes us uniquely human.
About the Author
Angela Montgomery Ph.D. is Partner and Co-founder of Intelligent Management, founded by Dr. Domenico Lepore. Angela’s new business novel+ website The Human Constraint looks at how Deming and the Theory of Constraints can create the organization of the future, based on collaboration, network and social innovation.