Learn to Manage Innovation for a Career Edge

A major theme of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address was the need for innovation to keep this country as a world leader. As inspiring as that may sound, economist Dambisa Moyo notes that the “problems can arise with execution.” A country – or a business – needs a structure that not only drives innovation, but provides what is necessary for it to happen.

Success requires a business to constantly figure out what it must do next and not rely on what worked yesterday. Any company that wants to thrive needs innovation. That means having people in management with some formal background – or a business degree online -who are creating the necessary organizational structure.

A key to innovation – creativity – feeds on bringing together disparate ideas and experiences. When everyone is comfortable in what they know and what they do, nothing new will happen. Some management techniques can help foster innovation.

Small cross-functional teams are more successful in being innovative than groups in a single silo. Expertise from outside a company or even industry can offer unexpected perspectives that lead to new products or services and take competitors by surprise.

At the same time, managers must keep innovation tethered to business strategy. Newness for its own sake is a waste of resources. Depending on a company’s situation, small improvements to existing products may be the best use of time. Some businesses will need a shift in product direction, requiring people with a management background or equivalent background, like a business administration degree online, who can design an appropriate strategy.

And yet, to assume that innovation is limited to products is too limiting. Many advanced economies rely on service businesses. Managers need to understand how innovation processes must differ, rather than trying to force their companies to use product-centric techniques and structures. Even companies that think they are firmly in a product-based business may miss chances to differentiate their offerings and involuntarily become commoditized.

Similarly, when strategy must change, what is often necessary is business model innovation. Managers often look to a product, technology or service to make a competitive difference when what they really need is a new way of operating or marketing and selling what they make or do. Sometimes you must focus less on existing customers and promote innovation to create value for non-customers who become your new customers.

In short, to cultivate and support innovation, you must be ready to embrace change. Ultimately, innovation means doing things differently. And that requires people who can lead others to new places.