The Great Innovation Lie

by Jeffrey Baumgartner

The Great Innovation LieLike any good managing director, I regularly watch what the competition and others in our field are up to. One thing I have noticed over recent months is a tendency to turn corporate innovation into a highly complex system involving numerous processes, approaches and models.

Such systems are being promoted by consultants who, not surprisingly, charge by the hour for implementing and teaching their systems. Unfortunately, when firms decide they need to implement an innovation strategy and meet with such high priced consultants, the firms are scared by the complex systems that must be implemented. When different consultants preach different systems, it only makes matters worse.

The problem is, corporate innovation need not be horrendously complex. Indeed, highly complex systems can actually stifle creativity. And since innovation is the result of successfully implemented creative ideas, it is clear that systems that stifle creativity are not going to maximize innovation. Quite the opposite.

As I have written before, medium to large organizations already contain many internal creative thinkers: the employees; and many external creative thinkers: the customers. All that is needed is…

  • Trust: to make people comfortable about sharing their ideas with the organization. They need to feel they can make mistakes without suffering undue consequences.
  • Management buy-in: management must demonstrate their commitment to innovation through internal and external communications media. Management must also demonstrate being creative themselves; as well as a willingness to try out creative, yet risky ideas.
  • Budget: is necessary to implement highly creative or disruptive ideas, which by nature are more risky than less creative ideas. Money must also be found for investing for tools (see below) that facilitate idea sharing and development and training in the use of those tools.
  • Tools: such as an idea management tool for soliciting, capturing and evaluating ideas from the employees. Used well, an idea management tool is the best on-going tool for idea capture. Also useful are creative project teams, brainstorming sessions, mind-mapping tools and other items which facilitate creative thinking and collaboration.
  • Evaluation methods: are necessary for evaluating ideas generated by the tools. Many tools, such as idea management systems, include evaluation components. Note: one must be careful not to over-evaluate an idea. Too much concern about risk can lead evaluators to discourage creativity in order to minimize risk (see article Too many evaluators spoil the idea).
  • Facilities: including meeting rooms, other spaces where people can meet and share ideas, white boards, post-its, pens and other things which facilitate creative meetings and brainstorming.
  • Rewards: whether recognition, small gifts or granting special privileges, some kind of fair reward scheme motivates people to share their creative ideas with the organization.
  • Time: employees need time to be creative (see second article below).

How all of these components come together will vary from firm to firm. What is important is that these components exist, that there is flexibility and that ideas are implemented – nothing spoils a great idea management system than not implementing ideas that are generated by the system.

Of course the above components of corporate innovation are highly simplified. Nevertheless, they provide the backbone of a corporate innovation plan and can quickly be elaborated to provide a more detailed structure. For more details on a simple, but effective organizational innovation strategy, see the Corporate Innovation Strategy Plan.

So, don’t let the expensive consultants fool you. An innovation strategy is relatively easy provided you have the commitment, the desire and the budget. Moreover, the strategy should be designed to fit your firm with minimal disruption.

Required reading for Congress and Obama if they are serious about fostering innovation

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Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey Baumgartner is the founder of, makers of Jenni innovation process management software. He also edits Report 103, a popular eJournal on business innovation. Contact Jeffrey at or visit

No comments

  1. All of your suggestions are sound. The one thing you are missing is focus on the customer. Business leaders need an overriding desire to uncover new customer needs and get some people focused on solving them.

    Yes, start with the CEO’s commitment to changing the organization and focus on serving the customer better. Start small and get some success. Then build a repeatable, learnable process.

    The last thing companies need to do is focus on a computerized system of idea management. That is the last step. Getting an information system will only automate what they are already doing.

  2. Nice Post Jeffery !
    One interesting thing I found, is that innovation capabilities and the systems, process, tools, and support mechanisms vary dramatically from industry to industry, and company to company. Although the final innovation structure for your company may be simple, the process of find it amongst the many options seems to be quite hard. Another cool thing is that new innovation methods are still being invented, which makes innovation more attractive yet again makes the job of find the right structure and process more complicated.
    Dr. Brian Glassman
    Ph.D. in Innovation Management from Purdue University

    I am an editor of IJIS, visit it for up-to-date innovation practices!

  3. I agree with your premise of simplicity.

    However, it seems like you are missing a couple of things on your list. The first is a reason to innovate, a focus, a vision, a purpose – without which you just get random output. The second is input, innovators require input to innovate – literature search, product search, competition knowledge, etc. etc., without these it is a dry well.

    Perhaps this is all implied, but can’t be left out.

  4. Great post Jeffrey! Could you give a few examples of “idea management tools?”

  5. Dr. Patrick Druggan

    Nice post. I left a company that was putting in a system for innovation that involved a lot of paper-work. As a dyslexic I found this difficult to deal with so found it an obstacle. It didn’t stop me innovating, but it did stop the business from evaluating them.

    People innovate. I don’t think that we need a reason to innovate. True innovation comes from empowerment of people. It needs a simple system that is flexible – but isn’t that the same of every business process?

  6. Great outline and clear though process here Jeffrey! Agreed on the overly complex, overly time consuming Innovation Management systems that external consultants are often happy to recommend and train.

    As you mentioned mind maps in the article, as an employee of a cloud based mind mapping solution, I’ve seen quite a few product funnels begin with a mind map. The trick here is to create an easily accessible, pick-up-and-go system whereby everyone in the workplace is able to contribute.

    Thanks again for this great rundown. The article is already making it’s way around the office!

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