Inspiration is fine, but above all, innovation is really a management process.

This article stresses on the fact that getting an idea is fine – but what about putting it to work – in terms of – revenues, feasibility, etc.

It starts by giving the example of Edison – most people would cite Edison as the inventor of the lightbulb – truth is there were others – decades before Edison who had “invented” the lightbulb. But Edison gets the glory because Edison not only made a new and improved lightbulb, he also provided the means/channel for the masses to actually use the lightbulb- sockets, the whole electrical system. Afterall, what good is an invention if the people who make the market cannot afford it/use it. Basically, it means that Edison “managed” the innovation process unlike his predecessors.

The management of innovation isn’t any easier today than it was during Edison’s era. Maybe we can take a pointer from all those “self-help” books which proclaim that we have to make our own luck – I mean it is somewhat easy to get lucky once in a while – but the trick would be to repeat the performance! One quote from the article by Paul Saffo (research director at the think tank institute for the future) goes like this “Managing innovation means cultivating an environment where lightning can strike twice. It’s extraordinarily difficult.” Wow! some help there – as it is innovation is tough and then we get people who are supposed to be the experts telling us how “extraordinarily difficult” it is – maybe articles on innovation should be written in an “optimistic” tone.

The article then states some problems – why innovation is tough, why breakthroughs are tough – a lot of forces today conspire against innovative products getting to market. Small outfits that are often the most innovative get short shrift because buyers aren’t sure they can deliver or even survive to keep supporting their products. Then there is the “innovator’s dilemma”. Another quote from Gerard M. Mooney, vice-president and director of corporate strategy at IBM (IBM ): “All big companies have trouble coming up with the Next Big Thing.”

At my last workplace, we use to often cringe at the word “commoditization” – we had done a case study when we joined as rookies and since then the word “commoditization” used to bring back memories of “long hours”. The article give the blame of slow or no innovation to “commodotization”.

Serial innovation may prove to be the key skill of the Information Age. Another quote by John Seely Brown – “Serendipity is nice, but we can’t leave this to happenstance. We just don’t have the money any longer to screw around.”

The good news is that crisis is the mother of innovation. Ah! Now that is fodder to chew on. Very interesting – not that I’m hearing it for the first time – but just the fact that “organized” crises/risk are so difficult to manufacture and everyone talks of them all the time – had I known how to organize crises periodically – I would have had my door beaten down by now!

Another nugget : “Thinking big is important, but sweating the details is just as critical to spurring continuous innovation.

Perhaps the most fundamental quality of innovative companies is that they never stop hammering away at problems and opportunities. They know that if they don’t, someone else will hammer them. Another quote by John L. Hennessy, president of Stanford University and co-founder of chip designer MIPS Computer Systems (MIPS ): “It’s better to shoot yourself in the foot than to allow somebody else to shoot you in some more vital part of the anatomy.”

Increasingly, companies are rethinking where innovations come from. The best ideas aren’t always inside corporate research and development labs – it’s becoming crucial to knock down walls inside the company — between research and manufacturing or marketing — while at the same time reaching outside the company for ideas. But it’s not easy to do. Another quote by Karl Ronn, vice-president of P&G’s home-care division: “Innovation nowadays is more like improvisation in jazz than playing out a score that’s already written.”

The ultimate in innovation, though, is not merely to come up with new products and services. It’s to create entirely new markets where none existed before — and better yet, to provide something that changes the way we live and work. Innovation was never just about new gizmos and gadgets. But in a service economy, innovations more than ever must transcend objects.

A fundamental constant of innovation: Nothing stays constant. Contending with innovation’s disruptive influence requires a “culture of divine discontent” in which everyone itches to improve things. Most people, unleashed, are innovators. Humans are this great species of tool-using animal who like to make our world better. The companies that can unleash that particular animal instinct are the ones that will thrive.

SOURCE: BusinessWeek – the Innovation Economy Series. By Robert D. Hof with Peter Burrows, in San Mateo, Calif., Steve Hamm and Diane Brady in New York, and Ian Rowley in Tokyo