20 Things Good Managers Know About Innovation

Everyone wants to innovate more, and many people don’t know where to start. Which is weird, since we actually know quite a bit about how innovation works.

Here is a list of some of things that we know are true:

  1. Solutions come from empowered people. Delegate decision making as far towards the front line as you can to increase your innovation.
  2. You can’t legislate innovation.  It doesn’t work to just say to people “go innovate” – your business model needs to support it.
  3. It’s not just about ideas. It’s the process of idea management.
  4. Innovation is the best way to bridge a gap between where you are and where you want to be.
  5. Getting the great idea to spread is just as important as having it and making it work.
  6. If every idea you try works you’re not trying enough new ideas.
  7. Make lots of little bets.
  8. People are way more important than tools.
  9. Innovations can be good or bad – make sure you’re creating real value.
  10. You need a deep understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.
  11. Ask new questions. Make new mistakes. Learn.
  12. A problem in need of a solution is worth lots more than a solution looking for a problem.
  13. Anyone can innovate.
  14. Connecting ideas is the fundamental creative act in innovation.
  15. You need top-down commitment to create a culture of innovation.
  16. If you don’t have the support of your manager, you need to innovate by stealth – how much can you get away with?
  17. Efficiency is often the enemy of innovation – you need slack!
  18. Failing is good – try to fail as small as possible, and make sure you learn from it.
  19. Innovation needs to support strategy, but every once in a while it can create it.
  20. Innovation works best when you pursue a portfolio of innovative projects.

Innovation is not a black box. If you apply some of these ideas, you can make your organisation more effective at innovating.


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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 “20 Things Good Managers Know About Innovation

  1. Have never believed failing is good [see item 18]. Try telling that to the families of trainee pilots!!

    I remember being told by probably the best Manager I ever worked with, and he believed explicitly that we must always plan to win, but plan in such a way that the minute we feel we are going off track, do something about it. That way, he explained, we learn to plan for success and not to fix problems. In addition he mused, we can always celebrate success!!!


    • Thanks for the comment Don.

      Trainee pilots fail all the time! They just do it on simulators before they hit the real thing. And that is the main point – you have to fail in a situation where you learn and improve. If you try to avoid small failures like this, the odds of a bigger failure (like crashing a plane) increase dramatically.

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