Sharpening Your Skills: Managing Innovation


Sharpening Your Skills dives into the HBS Working Knowledge archives to bring together articles on ways to improve your business skills.

Questions to be answered:

  • Can innovation and creativity be managed?
  • Where do creative ideas come from?
  • Can I take advantage of disruption?
  • Where can I find innovative solutions?

Can Innovation And Creativity Be Managed?

High Note: Managing the Medici String Quartet
Many managers in business experience difficulty dealing with their best creative thinkers. So how does violinist Paul Robertson, who leads one of the great string quartets in the world, manage himself and 3 colleagues? One idea: Don't make life too comfortable for them.

Key concepts include:

  • The Medici String Quartet combines great human achievement, extreme conditions, and intense collaboration. The topic of creative leadership has many parallels with business leadership.
  • One way to encourage innovative thinking about a challenge is to deconstruct the problem, such as when a musical director makes the orchestra practice a madrigal at a snail's pace. When trying to create something new you have to do something different to get it to happen.
  • Creative types shouldn't necessarily be "customer focused."
  • Try to create value out of novelty. Succumbing too much to commercial pressures such as taking on easy jobs may lose your distinctiveness.

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

How Kayak Users Built a New Industry
Users have produced some of the most important innovations in industries ranging from oil refining to scientific instruments. But how do user innovations take place? How do they get to market? HBS professor Carliss Baldwin discusses her research on the rodeo kayak industry to understand the world of user innovation.

Key concepts include:

  • Many product innovations originate with users, and as user communities quickly add more improvements, a "design space" is initiated.
  • User innovators seem to spring up around industries such as recreation, where participants are passionate, and design costs are low.
  • Creative types shouldn't necessarily be "customer focused."
  • Commercial opportunities to build upon existing products may be available for both users and existing companies—but the timing is different for each.

Can I Take Advantage Of Disruption?

Jumpstarting Innovation: Using Disruption to Your Advantage
Mature companies understand that to compete they need to innovate. But finding sources of innovation while still paying attention to the current business can be a struggle. The good news, says HBS professor Lynda Applegate, is that one of the forces that threatens established companies can also be a source of salvation: disruptive change.

Key concepts include:

  • Jumpstarting innovation is a critical business imperative. Executives realize that radical change is needed, but do not feel equipped to be able to make those changes.
  • Disruptions in the business environment allow new entrants or forward-thinking established players to introduce innovations that transform the way companies do business and consumers behave.
  • Disruptive changes that might serve as the source of innovation include technology shifts, new business models, industry dynamics, global opportunities, and regulatory changes.

Where Can I Find Innovative Solutions?

Open Source Science: A New Model for Innovation
Borrowing a practice that is common in the open source software community, HBS professor Karim Lakhani and colleagues decided to see how "broadcasting" might work among scientists trying to solve scientific problems. The results? Promising for many types of innovation, as he explains in this Q&A.

Key concepts include:

  • Practices in the open source software community offer a model for encouraging large-scale scientific problem solving.
  • Open up your problem to other people in a systematic way. A problem may reside in one domain of expertise, and the solution may reside in another.
  • Find innovative licensing ways or legal regimes that allow people to share knowledge without risking the overall intellectual property of the firm.