Innovation Roles for Managers
Excerpted from a whitepaper produced by The Mangement Centre.
Almost every organisation — charity, public body or private corporation — sees innovation as a key competency for the 21st century. Marketing guru Philip Kotler says, “the only sustainable competitive advantages are creativity and innovation.” His argument goes that since it’s almost impossible to develop a service or product that will not be copied, the only way to stay ahead — or even perhaps to survive — is to keep reinventing the way you work.
In his book “Business @ the Speed of Thought,” Bill Gates summarises the same idea in a very practical but challenging way: “In three years every product we make will be obsolete. The only question is whether we’ll make them obsolete or if someone else will.”
In the commercial field, after a massive rethink of the business it was in, IBM has moved from almost 90 years as a manufacturer of computers to being essentially a management consultancy in a decade. And in the charity world, organisations like LEPRA — originally set up almost 80 years ago to tackle leprosy — now have moved on to deal with other illnesses such as HIV and tuberculosis.
A typology of roles
So what can we learn from these organisations? How do organisations sustain this innovation impulse? Part of the answer lies in the roles that managers play in stimulating innovation. The process of innovation and creativity is complex and involves many factors. But for an organisation to succeed, managers have to successfully encourage others to innovate. And they can do this by playing one of several roles. We can divide these roles up into a simple typology.
* Mentors adopt individuals or even ideas, ensuring they achieve their full potential through careful nurturing throughout their life cycle. They help organise connections with key decision makers, and cut aside layers of bureaucracy to ensure appropriate innovation wins through and is recognised at the top.