Successfully Managing Innovation

How does one manage risk, failure and breakthrough during an innovation process? Professor Andrew Hargadon explored how managers throughout history have innovated and managed that innovation in a plenary talk at the 2011 Independent Sector Annual Conference in Chicago in October. The conference drew 1,000 of the brightest minds from nonprofits, foundation and corporate giving programs.

Hargadon noted that innovations are not necessarily new technologies. Rather, innovation is the ability to combine existing technologies and reproduce them. This, he says, is where management is critical.

Hargadon stressed the importance of innovation management in a poignant blog post after the death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. He wrote: “Jobs led. In our own worlds, he challenged us to do the same. He also had the will to push his vision. Few people are willing to admit that iron-fisted aggression is a cornerstone of innovation, but Jobs did not rebuild Apple by watching a thousand flowers bloom. He never hesitated to impose his vision on others, demonstrating a will that would ensure his vision would come together where it mattered most—in the details. It was this will that would come to define his public personality, and make employees both fear his wrath and follow him wherever he would lead.

“Finally, he had taste. Equally rare among corporate leaders, Jobs had a sense of style that drove everything he controlled. A style that, I admit, I preferred. Like a symphony conductor, he had the vision to see what could be and the will to demand that every last detail hew to that vision. All of which would be worthless without the ear for the music. Without that style, great companies have been built but few will mourn their passing. Forget the computers, the music, the apps and just imagine what his legacy would be if we expected the same vision, will, and style in all our leaders.”


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