Can creativity and innovation be managed? Judging from responses to questions posed by practitioner panelists at a recent colloquium on "Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Future" at Harvard Business School, many feel that traditional management practice has little to contribute to processes of creation and innovation. While asking "What isn't management's role in innovation?," Michelle Malay Carter states the case this way: "Nearly all current performance management models are stacked against innovation." This includes, according to B. V. Krishnamurthy, confining such activities to an "R&D function" even though he questioned "whether organizations are ready for … open collaboration." Ulrich Nettesheim suggested that, if innovation is to be fostered in the conventional organization, "the role and practices of management require innovation as well." But what kind of innovation in management are we thinking about?
There were many suggestions. Nearly all began with the call for a new kind of leadership. Umesh Gupta stated, "Innovation … is directly proportional to the attitude of senior management." Ginny Wiedower commented, "Without a corporate strategy to reach defined corporate goals, innovation will be misdirected and unguided." But D. R. Elliott pointed out that "innovations and inefficiencies are persistent anomalies in organizations." Actions of top managers, according to Marc Sniukas, should "set the context; guide the process …; clearly communicate reasons …; shield creative teams …; appreciate distinctiveness in people and their thinking; and welcome change." As Dan Hoch put it, "… the real question revolves not around whether the managers have the courage, but does the CEO have the vision and fortitude to stand before the board and defend the opportunity to explore and fail?"
Joe Violette, who reminded us that innovation (as opposed to invention) is most often carried out in teams, suggested that leadership's role is also "to provide a work environment of openness built on trust where every member of the team feels free to express their views/opinions without fear of ridicule or reprisal." Debbe Kennedy called for management to insure diversity in "people, ideas…." Dhruva Trivedy called on leadership to "involve people at all levels…." Pablo Lira suggested the importance of "facilitating calculated testing environments to evaluate and secure viability of new ideas."
Other models for innovation were suggested. Lamenting that "inculcating the burning drive of the inspired entrepreneur into a large R&D staff over a sustained period is next to impossible," Wayne Hosking suggested that these ideas need "to incorporate some analysis of the venture capital model." At the HBS colloquium, participants raised questions suggesting other models. For example, given the proliferation of networking technologies, will more and more innovation be carried out in communities that cross corporate lines? Following from this, one has to ask whether truly large innovations needed by society will be achieved without traditional leadership or even, up to some point in the process, traditional rules of competition in so-called "open source" environments of the kind that have prevailed up to now largely in academia. What do you think?
In early December, a colloquium on "Creativity, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations of the Future" is being held as part of the 100th anniversary celebration at the Harvard Business School. To kick off the colloquium, senior managers of 4 sizeable organizations heavily involved in innovation have been asked to pose "burning questions" to the assembled researchers and practitioners of innovation and creativity. Given their importance for global economic health and progress, the questions are worth pondering.
One highly successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur will ask whether management is a net positive or negative in fostering creativity and invention. He will cite a growing body of evidence that suggests that bottom-up "discovery" has a superior record in comparison with "top down 'deliberate' strategies from headquarters." He asks whether companies should call a halt to managing the innovation process, "intentionally abandoning control of their scarcest resources."
Another senior executive will ask whether creativity scales. Can an innovator be more productive with the substantial resources that a large organization can provide? Or does the process work better in the loneliness of the garage with limited resources, little collective advice, and a predictably high failure rate? Are resource-constrained entities more creative because they have to find ways of dealing with the constraints? One question posed by this panel member sums up the tension associated with management's role in creativity and innovation: Is there "a theoretical sweet spot where scale fosters innovation, beyond which the complexity starts to stifle it?"
A third executive will raise questions concerning the impact of the Internet on the management of these processes. He will lament the "'lone genius' myth of creativity and innovation (that) may be limiting our ability to make meaningful progress in everything from technology to organizations to education—even society itself." The implication here is that the Internet has the potential to encourage the kind of collaboration that can prove useful in creative work. But in doing so, does it foster a kind of anarchy in which ideas flow directly between innovators with little involvement by management in a networked world? In fact, are management processes so out of tune with networked processes that they will represent a brake on collaborative innovation?
The fourth will ask what needs to be done to foster a culture of creativity in an organization. Specifically, how do managers avoid "the temptation to apply simplistic process management tools to the discovery process?"
One feature of these questions, posed independently by four thoughtful senior practitioners, is their remarkable consistency. All ask whether management, as it is currently practiced, has much to contribute to innovation and creativity. If the answer is little, one might ask what kinds of changes will be necessary to allow managers, particularly in larger organizations, to add value to the creative process? Or is it more productive to explore ways of providing incentives to the innovators of the world, largely outside large organizations, possibly by facilitating the market that mediates resources between investors and innovators? What do you think?