Can Innovation Management be a Profession?

The importance of managing innovation as a process is one of our key themes here. Because the success of any single great idea is pretty close to impossible to predict, the best way to successfully innovate is to try a lot of things, and to manage ideas through a process. If you do this, you can become better at innovating.

So innovation can be managed. But can innovation management become a profession? Should it even try?

Howard Gardner and Lee Shulman list six characteristics of professions in an article in Daedalus from 2005 called The professions in America today: crucial but fragile:

  1. a commitment to serve in the interests of clients in particular and the welfare of society in general;
  2. a body of theory or special knowledge with its own principles of growth and reorganization;
  3. a specialized set of professional skills, practices, and performances unique to the profession;
  4. the developed capacity to render judgments with integrity under conditions of both technical and ethical uncertainty;
  5. an organized approach to learning from experience both individually and collectively and, thus, of growing new knowledge from the contexts of practice;
  6. and the development of a professional community responsible for the oversight and monitoring of quality in both practice and professional education.

Many of these are things worth striving for – but we certainly still have a way to go to establish a set of skills unique to the profession & in the development of a professional community. Developing a community of professional innovation managers could go a long way towards improving the practice and outcomes of innovation efforts.

On the other hand, maybe trying to make the process of innovation management routine actually takes all of the innovation out of the process.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the idea myself, so I thought I’d just throw it out to you.

Do you think innovation management should try to be more like a profession?

If so, what do we need to focus on improving to get there?

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

6 thoughts on “Can Innovation Management be a Profession?

  1. Tim – Interesting conundrum! As a person involved in the innovation process myself, I see a need for a recognized community and/or profession. On the other hand, does the very act fly in the face of openness, flexibility, creativity and “new” ways of thinking and doing.

    From what I have read here on your blog, I believe you have already answered your own question. I’m thinking of some of your previous posts, i.e. “Why you need an innovation system”, “Improve Innovations Through Iteration” and courses like your “Innovation Leadership”. From these and others, I would read that either there is a need and it is inevitable.

    The possible Catch-22, is that the very formalization of an innovation profession and the characteristics listed above restrain the potential of the concept of innovation itself. That said, many aspect of the words in the characteristics listed above lead me to believe that an “innovation profession” is not contradictory (committment to serve, body of theory, capacity to render judgements, learning from experience). These allow for an open process that can still understand and foster innovation.

    Interesting question and a good point for discussion. I look forward to reading other comments.

  2. Hmmm.

    A cynic once said that all professions, without exception, seek to maximise transmissibility whilst minimising transferability.

    If innovation is about edges (and it is) then professionalism is all about the centre; it’s the centrifugal force of disruption when against the centripetal force of stability/process/best practice.

    It would be ironic if those leading innovation too steps to minimise the chance of introducing innovation into their own leadership.

    Is innovation a clock or a cloud? I think it’s a cloud:

    It’s also about promiscuous interfaces and imagining the possibility of impossible cultures:

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments Stephen and Simon. I think that they express very well the issue here and the arguments on both sides of it!

    Personally, I’m torn. I obviously spend quite a bit of time thinking about how to make innovation more systematic, but I also find Simon’s edge/centre argument very compelling.

  4. Simon, well said. In general, I tend to agree with what I’m reading as your point of view. My difficulty (and I’m sensing the same from Tim), is that it’s not that easily categorized. I believe innovation (assuming – “the implenmentaion of new ideas”) is a bit of both, clock and cloud as well as fringe and centre.

    Here’s why the concept is elusive for me… the “idea” part or even serendipitous discovery (thing Louis Pasteur) is more of the fringe or could for me, but the implementation is where we touch on the centre and/or clock and order. but really it’s neither and it’s both.

    But this discussion may end up being a dog chasing its tail 😉 Good conversation.

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