The “secret sauce” for successful innovation lies in the way it’s managed, particularly for large corporations looking to continuously innovate in a strategic and sustainable way to stay relevant in their market.
And it goes without saying that to keep up with ever-changing customer needs and an always-expanding market, we need to innovate how we manage innovation. Even innovation management has its own trends and new ways of doing things. As the famous saying by Henry Ford goes:
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
With that in mind, in this article, we look ahead to the next decade and the exciting changes we can expect in innovation management. From advances in technology to evolving consumer behaviors, the future of innovation management will be dynamic and transformative.
We’ve spoken with some of the greatest minds in the innovation industry to assess the latest trends and predictions. Here, we explore together how businesses and organizations can adapt and thrive in this rapidly changing landscape.
One of the key trends already in motion is the increasing integration of technology. From artificial intelligence and machine learning to virtual and augmented reality, technology will play a crucial role in driving innovation forward.
As technology becomes more powerful, so do the opportunities for organizations to harness their full potential to enhance their innovation processes, streamline workflows, and outperform their competition.
“Quantum computing will play a major role in the digital space, and therefore in innovation management since we’ll reach calculation speeds that we’ve never seen before.
For example, it can solve complex problems, analyze large amounts of data, and recognize patterns in seconds in what would have previously taken months. The possibilities are endless and it’s just a matter of time until we see all these great advancements being used and utilized for moving the innovation management needle forward, making our processes more efficient and helping us make better and more informed decisions.”
Bob Goldman, CVS Health, adds that generative AI is not just another tech buzzword; it's a force that's reshaping the way we perceive artificial intelligence. Unlike traditional AI, which follows strict rules and patterns, generative AI has the ability to create and imagine. It's like having an AI artist, writer, and inventor all rolled into one.
Entrepreneurs and forward-thinkers are embracing generative AI to drive innovation in various fields. From healthcare and finance to entertainment and marketing, industries are reimagining their possibilities with the help of generative AI.
“AI has been around, but not really seen as anything special, a peripheral influence on innovation, where its main strength has been in data analytics. But suddenly we’re seeing it everywhere and in powerful new guises - see the ChatGPT stories.
Frank Piller at Aachen has published a great piece where he and his team looked at how AI might affect product innovation, and they put it to the test by working with ChatGPT to come up with solutions. I wrote a blog piece about it here and I'm convinced we're entering a new stage where we will have powerful tools available to help us and the potential for building a hybrid approach to innovation management. But then I'm always a bit of an optimist...!”
Collaboration via ecosystems
Another significant trend that’s becoming increasingly important in organizations, big and small, is the shift toward more collaborative and inclusive approaches.
Increasing globalization, diversity, and inclusivity in the workforce highlights the crucial role that collective intelligence and effective collaboration are playing in driving innovation forward. Collaboration can help to unlock new sources of creativity and uncover ideas that might otherwise be inaccessible. As we all know, creativity is often the connection of two or more existing ideas, so focusing on fostering collaboration allows that to take place more frequently and in a more systematic way, driving innovation across organizations.
What about collaboration between different organizations or between different stakeholders, for instance, corporates and startups, businesses and customers, or distributors and retail stores? Each of them holds different information and each has different strengths that might be beneficial for the other when exchanged. We anticipate the continued growth of collaboration and partnerships involving different stakeholders creating "partner ecosystems."
John Bessant, Senior Research Fellow at Innofora, says:
“Up to the turn of the century, we focused a lot of attention on the individual enterprise and how it managed innovation, a bit like those early models of the universe which put the earth at the center of things. Since then, we've learned a lot about open innovation and the need to manage relationships and trade in knowledge across a system.
But we're now reaching a point where, especially if our innovations are going to scale, we need to think about ecosystems - assembling networks that create value. This poses three challenges - finding, forming, and performing.
Finding is all about locating the key partners, the complementary assets that we'll need to move to scale. Forming is all about building working relationships with them on some kind of win/win basis - recognizing that their goals and perspectives might be very different from ours.
And performing is all about orchestrating that whole system to deliver emergent properties where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. That’s a key frontier issue for me and we’re still exploring ways of working with such ecosystems where we don't have full control and where 'management' needs to be a light-touch affair. Particularly interesting in the context of the growing number of 'platform' businesses.”
Sarah Kelly, Senior Innovation Manager at Liberty Global, says that with the rise of online communications, it's easy to see how our interactions have changed drastically. While technology has undeniably brought convenience and connectivity, it has also created a gap in our ability to connect on a personal level.
As we look towards the future, the need for interpersonal skills becomes increasingly crucial. The ability to understand and relate to others on a deeper level is essential for building strong relationships, whether in personal or professional settings.
Sustainability as a goal
Sustainability has become a mandatory requirement and is increasingly important in every business landscape. Integrating sustainability into innovation strategies is becoming the norm and is here to stay.
When we refer to sustainability, we’re talking about ecological and social sustainability, so it’s not just a topic that’s relevant for organizations that are manufacturing or producing something. It’s relevant for every organization that’s dealing with people, that cares about the environment, and that aspires to have the highest standards in its industry.
From eco-friendly products and services to circular economy models, how should businesses embrace sustainable innovation practices to contribute to a more socially and environmentally conscious future?
“Innovation and sustainability are not optional. They're mandatory for every organization. Without them, you will cease to exist. That's just a fact. So, whether you want it or not, you have to innovate. If you don't innovate, you stagnate and you die. Without sustainability in the mix, you just don't stand a chance. It's not something that is nice to have. You need to focus on sustainability from the get-go. You need to restructure the way you do business. It can be your business model, your products, or your services.
Whatever it is, you need to rethink everything and see how it fits with sustainability, and innovate for that. The moment we stop seeing sustainability as an obstacle or as something costly, and we start seeing it as a catalyst and an opportunity, that’s when things change. We need a shift in the mindset. That's the most important thing.
The awareness, the way that we look at things that need to change and then everything else should follow through. We've taken that perspective from the bottom line to the triple bottom line to see how to create a business around it.”
Innovation management is now indispensable
Innovation management is becoming a necessity rather than a privilege of luxurious R&D departments. Especially now, when customer expectations are changing and growing rapidly, businesses need to adapt and innovate to meet these evolving demands. And someone needs to drive this process forward because it doesn’t happen by chance. We need structure, processes, and all the other key ingredients to ensure that innovation is engrained into our DNA.
“Innovation management as a discipline will become more rigorous, data-driven, and ubiquitous. Just like we have indispensable marketing, communications, finance, sales, and procurement functions, we will also have many more structures dedicated solely to transformation.
Specialists occupying these structures might be working at the crossroads of research and development, marketing, venturing, and project management, and their task will be to identify and accelerate projects that result in new products, services, business models, and even relationships.
Today, lots of specialists already have innovation in their job title, but few of the structures they inhabit survive the ups and downs of the economy. There is already an indication that innovation is much more established. Hopefully, the innovation function itself will also become more stable and less prone to sudden reorganization.”
Execution and integration with the core business
Here’s what Jesse Nieminen, Co-founder at Viima, says about the innovation management execution and integration with the core business:
We arguably live in a golden age of innovation: advanced technologies are more accessible than ever, and virtually all information mankind has ever created is now freely available from anywhere.
With that background, it just makes sense that companies have kept increasing their spending on innovation until the recent crises we’ve faced. Yet, even before that, the returns from those investments were declining. What gives?
Well, for one, the democratization of innovation means more competition. But even more importantly, all that information and technology still need to be turned into tangible benefits for customers and the organization. The first and most important step is to make sure you’re solving a real problem and for the right customers.
However, the areas where we, as innovators, arguably have the biggest ways to go are execution and integrating our work with the core business.
At the beginning of our innovation coaching program, we ask every participant to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses as innovators. From the hundreds of innovation managers and leaders that we’ve had, the majority consider their key weakness to be some combination of impatience, lack of discipline, ability to focus and execute, or getting bored easily.
Unfortunately, these are all at the core of what it takes to turn ideas into tangible value for the organization. As a community, we need to become better at these. And we also need to find ways to build bridges to the core business so that a) we make sure we solve their big problems and b) we get them onboard to scale our innovations.
Better tools and processes can help, but it’s a culture and a leadership problem at its core.
The bottom line? The future of innovation management will be shaped by integrating technology, collaborative and inclusive approaches, sustainability considerations, and changing customer expectations.
What are your thoughts?
What changes do you see in the industry?
What other trends are shaping the landscape and the role of the innovation manager?