The Discipline of Innovation


Why The Discipline of Innovation

In the introduction to a reprint of Peter Drucker’s article The Discipline of Innovation in a best of Harvard Business Review edition, the editor writes:

How much of innovation is inspiration, and how much is hard work? If it’s mainly the former, then management’s role is limited: Hire the right people, and get out of their way. If it’s largely the latter, management must play a more vigorous role: Establish the right roles and processes, set clear goals and relevant measures, and review progress at every step. Peter Drucker, with the masterly subtlety that is his trademark, comes down somewhere in the middle. Yes, he writes in this article, innovation is real work, and it can and should be managed like any other corporate function. But that doesn’t mean it’s the same as other business activities. Indeed, innovation is the work of knowing rather than doing.

In other words, innovation is not an art, it’s a discipline – and that’s why I’m changing the name of the blog to The Discipline of Innovation.

Here is how Drucker himself describes the issues in his article:

Innovation is the specific function of entrepreneurship, whether in an existing business, a public service institution, or a new venture started by a lone individual in the family kitchen. It is the means by which the entrepreneur either creates new wealth-producing resources or endows existing resources with enhanced potential for creating wealth.

Today, much confusion exists about the proper definition of entrepreneurship. Some observers use the term to refer to all small businesses; others, to all new businesses. In practice, however, a great many well-established businesses engage in highly successful entrepreneurship. The term, then, refers not to an enterprise’s size or age but to a certain kind of activity. At the heart of that activity is innovation: the effort to create purposeful, focused change in an enterprise’s economic or social potential.

The Skills of the Discipline

If innovation is a discipline, what are its basic building blocks?  There are a few:

All of this means that there are no shortcuts to building your innovation capability.

What This Means

Here is the new logo:



There are a few important ideas embodied in this.

I’ve drawn it by hand to illustrate that innovation is a process where you need to get your hands dirty.  You can’t automate it, you can’t outsource it.  It’s not polished, professional and efficient – innovation is messy, like my handwriting!

The lightning bolt is the great idea that lies at the heart of innovating.  The monkey wrench is the hard work.  The monkey wrench is also the spanner in the works – innovating nearly always causes problems.  Someone loses, things change.  Change can be threatening, but people can embrace it when they have input into the process.  When you’re driving innovation, you can avoid the surprise of change, and spring that surprise on others.



If you look at the full picture for the logo, you can see the earlier iterations to the left.  Innovation is about experimenting, iterating, and learning.  And this is the third title for this blog.  It feels the most right, but we’ll see how it goes.  It’s another experiment.

And finally, despite the iterations, the drawing isn’t great.  I’ve always been a visual thinker, but a so-so artist.  But if I’m willing to put my drawings in front of people, you should be willing to put your ideas out there too.  You don’t have to be an expert (though knowledge helps).  It doesn’t have to be perfect.  Just get the ideas out, then you and others can build on them.  It’s an example of Nilofer Merchant’s saying: not everyone will, but anyone can.

My goal here is to help people that are trying to build a better world.  I want to help make work more interesting.  I hope that we can work together to do that.

Hence, The Discipline of Innovation.

Let’s get to work!


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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.

20 thoughts on “The Discipline of Innovation

  1. Thanks for this article and the back links to other articles elaborating on the concept. I loved the seven step program that you have outlined and the message to organisations about managing innovation as a process and making room (resources and time) for experimenting – deliberate innovation. It is rather fashionable for organiations to claim that they are innovative or promote innovation, even identify ‘innovation’ as its core value, without backing it up with process and programs that foster innovation. The seven step program is a great way to start from one’s own circle of control and influence and hence very inspiring!!

    • Thanks for the comment Bhakti – I’m glad that the ideas resonate with you.

      You’re absolutely right in saying that many organisations talk about innovation without having performance to back it up – it’s a real issue.

  2. Hi Tim – I fully agree, it’s a discipline that requires discipline. Another necessary skill I’d suggest is measurement, ensuring alignment to strategy; choosing the right metrics; setting targets; and measuring progress towards them. Don’t worry, I’m not advocating lean…..


  3. Hi there, I love your new logo and you should not be shy pretending not to be an artist 😉 I also believe that innovation is a process and that you need the right culture to further ideas. I do believe that internal (intercultural) communications as well as mindful leadership play an important part in ensuring ideas get through the funnel (in org. at least). Cheers! Jenny

    • Thanks for the feedback Jenny. I agree with your points about communications and mindful leadership – both are definitely important. I do still think that my drawings are objectively not that great. But I enjoy making them. :-)

  4. Hi Tim

    Hmmm. I´m not convinced about seeing innovation as a discipline. Sure, innovation needs action; otherwise it is just dreaming. Of course, companies do need a culture of innovation understanding it as a freedom to think different and thus bein able to find new products, services, markets or whatever.

    I just wrote an article in my blog about Nokia hitting the wall because of not foreseeing what´s up in the mobile market. The Finnish company was famous for its ability to change, an ability lost many years ago. There was neither fresh atmosphere nor sufficient funds to prepare for the future.

    Innovation, as I see it, comes and goes with the people. I find it funny to read in the Mission and Vison statements -how many laughable things can you find there- when innovation, sustanability and other fashion words show up generously. Don´t preach it: do it.

    And I fully agree with you when you say that “innovation is a process where you need to get your hands dirty”. Of course!

    Thanks for the article!

    Alberto Losada

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