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The future of innovation will be more important then ever, but most likely quite different from what we have thought of as “normal” innovation in the past. More important because as global population grows, available resources shrink, the environment worsens, and the business environment becomes more complex, we’ll need more innovation than ever to move human prospects forward.
We start with the sobering realization that the global economy is much more complex than any competitive terrain that we’ve innovated on before. In addition, the pace of change appears to be accelerating, as well. All in all, innovation will be more essential in the future, than it has ever been in the past, and at the same time, more challenging to do well!
The very nature of how we innovate will change. The old (and often misleading) stereotype of the single individual, or even small team, will fade as multi-site, multi-organizational, and multi-cultural collaboration becomes the norm. This will result in truly global approaches to idea-sharing, shaping and ownership that goes well beyond what we have mastered in the past.
We must recognize that few firms are prepared for this. They often lack the appropriate mindset, sufficient competencies, and even access to the necessary ideas, that this new innovation approach requires. Yet, if they limit their innovation activities to the confines of their own organization, they are condemned to under-achieve. Increasingly, we will be seeing that the potentials and weaknesses of our value-chains are as important as our own competencies, and building innovation partnerships up and down the value-chain will become an imperative. This, then, will require coordinating other peoples’ innovative assets, in a way that is more challenging than merely managing one’s own commercialization funnel.
We must build organizational “cultures” that treat ideas as the raw materials for building an organization’s future. That means idea-work must be recognized as a legitimate, and vital, part of what we’re all doing. It also means that the right attitudes are necessary, if we’re going to take knowledge and innovation seriously; and that processes need to be in place to assure that we are getting enough good ideas into the firm, and moving them to the right people in order to add value and bring about commercialization. We need to measure how much smarter we are as an organization, from year to year, and think about what investments need to be made to raise our return on brains.
Leadership must also change. The ideal is “smart people leading smarter people,” and the role models for this are those virtuoso performers who have inspired others to work beyond their normal aspirations. This is leadership as a contact sport, but the goal is for the knowledge workers to believe that they are working in absolute freedom, while leadership believes that it retains complete control.

Originailly written for "The Future of Innovation" project, 2009

 

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