Success = People + Ideas – Control ?

The Wall Street Journal published an article ( on May 19th on Google’s attempt to apply mathematical algorithms to prevent brain drain of its 20,000+ large workforce. The approach is a good representation of the misconception between innovation and idea management, which I am often faced with when consulting clients on the difference. I have in my previous blog posts described my views on both thus refer to them for details.

People as input into a mathematic algorithm

Brain drain is often the result from a misaligned human resource management strategy between the business strategy vis-á-vis the organization (people). By applying a mathematical algorithm to a HRM issue, the risk Google runs is to distance itself from the issue itself: that Google has successfully grown into a large company, where the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit has more difficult conditions to survive.

Question: can an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit and curiosity be defined by mathematics?

Ideas as input into an innovation management process

While idea management is an integral part of the innovation management process, the two are very different in nature. Innovation management is a rational, left-side brain process, which lend itself to structure, measurement and steering. The highly used stage-gate model is a perfect example of the rational understanding, underlying the innovation process. Idea management on the other hand is a creative, right-side brain process, which does not lend itself to traditional structures, measurements and steering. If the purpose is an innovation scope leaning towards the radical side, the idea management process should be perceived as governing a controlled chaos.
Controlled chaos is when only the boundaries are known and controlled, but the inside is allowed to be unstructured and unpredictable. To ensure progress, the characteristics of the ideas within the process are used to determine the boundaries permitted for the single idea i.e. radical ideas should be permitted more flexible boundaries than incremental ideas.

Question: should ideas be controlled and if so, when in the innovation management process?


How to Implement LEAN While Retaining Creative Minds

As the crisis hits harder, a frequent response is often optimization and rationalization. Depending on the gap between the implementing organization and it’s peers, the impact on the processes varies. The challenge is how to implement the mindset of LEAN, while maintaining organizational creativity and flexibility.

Knowledge workers are often reluctant to follow strict processes, rather see these as restraining factors on their ability to be creative and in control of their work. The results are likely to be either a less innovative, creative organization or increased atrition rates thus loss of valuable knowledge.

Understanding the underlying principles of the innovation management process, and matching this insight to both the LEAN project and the needs of the knowledge workers, companies can implement an holistic innovation management process that permits creativity and variability in the fuzzy front, where processes are not linear nor predictable, and strict process adherence later in the innovation management process, when processes becomes predictable and often organized into projects.

The two mindsets can co-exist if the innovation management process is perceived as Scott Anthony labels: the train schedule. This concept implies that the innovation process is planned with the same rigor as a train schedule i.e. projects are launched at planned intervals. Their content may vary depending on the maturity of an idea, but the “train leaves none the less the station” on time.

This concept permits controlled chaos in the phases before “train departure” this addressing the needs of the knowledge workers, while enforcing a no tolerance for variability once the “train” has departed this adhering to the principles of LEAN.

Question: How have you balanced the needs of knowledge workers when implement LEAN in your organization?

Should Innovation Be Managed or Lead: Is There a Subtle Difference

The Art of Leadership
The literature often debate on the difference between leadership and management. Both sides acknowledge that a difference exist, but have yet to reach a definite definition. An often cited quality of leadership versus management is that leadership is an art, not a science. De Pree, 19891, made this point clear, when defining leadership as “liberating people to do what is required of them in the most effective and humane way as possible.” By contrast the traditional management theories originate from the works of Frederick Winslow Taylor and Max Weber2, developed to address the early stages of the industrial age through planning, budgeting, and control systems.

If we accept these qualities then in the absence of leadership, would a company be more prone to pursue institutional or incremental innovations, where the attributes of planning, budgeting, and control systems are in focus; and in the presence of leadership, be better positioned to pursue more radical innovations?

Defining Innovation as Sign of Leadership
In my first blog I presented the results from the field research of my Henley MBA dissertation that only 20% of the studied companies had a formal definition of innovation. One reason could be that innovation has become a fluffy, meaningless term. A term used relentless and covering every initiative from old marketing gimmicks to new processes or products. If so, then innovation is not well perceived in these times of crisis where the executive focus is predominant on optimization, cash flow management, and the next order. A focus that is primarily addressed by the management of the company. But could the absence of a formal definition be the sign of absence of leadership in the firm?

Correlating Leadership to the Pursuit of Radical Innovation
I believe, we can all agree to three broad categories when assessing the innovation scope: from one extreme, institutional, which is primarily small incremental innovations, to the other extreme, radical, which is new innovations far from the existing paradigm. The in-between these extremes is what Birchall & Tovstiga3 define as evolutional innovations, which take the existing to a more radical level without being radical by scope.

Radical innovations are commonly accepted as more risky and far from the known; hence, the pursuit of a radical idea is likely to be the pursuit of a vision. This type of innovation cannot and should not be assessed using the company’s standard measurement KPIs, which make them easy prey in times of crisis unless a senior executive acts as an ambassador for the idea. Given the unpredictability of the radical innovation, would it be reasonable to assume that this executive displays true leadership, if his ambassadorship is real? Conversely, would it be reasonable to state that the primarily pursuit of institutional innovations is evidence of more managerial attributes than leadership? Is this the subtle difference?

Question: what is your experience of leadership vs management in terms of innovation?


1 De Pree, M. (1989), LEADERSHIP Is an ART, New York: Dell Publishing Group, Inc

2 Hamel, G. (2007), The Future of Management. Harvard Business School Press: Boston, USA

3 Birchall, D.W. and Tovstiga, G. (2005) Capabilities for Strategic Advantage: Leading Technological Innovation. Palgrave Macmillan: USA