Few companies understand how such innovation occurs — and how to encourage it. To foster new management ideas and techniques, companies first need to understand the four typical stages in the management innovation process.
Management innovation — that is, the implementation of new management practices, processes and structures that represent a significant departure from current norms — has over time dramatically transformed the way many functions and activities work in organizations. Many of the practices, processes and structures that we see in modern business organizations were developed during the last 150 years by the creative efforts of management innovators. Those innovators have included well-known names like Alfred P. Sloan and Frederick Taylor, as well as numerous other unheralded individuals and small groups of people who all sought to improve the internal workings of organizations by trying something new.
Consider how our ability to manage the consistency of manufacturing processes has evolved: from Ford Motor’s introduction of the moving assembly line in 1913 and Western Electric’s invention of statistical quality control in 1924, through the quality revolution begun by Toyota Motor and other Japanese companies in 1945 and on to such recent innovations as the ISO quality standards and Motorola’s Six Sigma methodology, which were both introduced in 1987.1 Similarly, the ability to keep control of a company’s finances has changed substantially over the centuries, through such innovations as discounted cash-flow analysis, capital budgeting and, more recently, activity-based costing. Even the foundation stones of the modern business organization were at some point created by inventive and farsighted individuals: Luca Pacioli popularized double-entry bookkeeping in 1494, and the limited liability company was created in 1856.2
A historical perspective is useful because it reminds us that nothing about our current ways of working is inviolable. There are management innovations under way all the time in organizations. Many fail, some work — and only a few make history. Over time, the most valuable innovations are imitated by other organizations and are diffused across entire industries and countries. Some management innovations, including Toyota Motor Corp.’s lean production system and Procter & Gamble Co.’s brand management model, gave the pioneering companies lasting competitive advantage. Others, such as Materials Requirement Planning and investment portfolio analysis, created broader- based productivity and societal benefits. Indeed, taken as a whole, the process of management innovation is probably as important to economic and social progress as technological innovation.3 Ray Stata, the former CEO of Analog Devices Inc., a semiconductor company based in Norwood, Massachusetts, argued that, “at Analog Devices, and many other U.S.