Essential Innovation Insights

Every business executive knows the importance of innovation to an organization’s future — but that doesn’t make the unpredictable innovation process any easier to manage. To help address that challenge, the fall 2017 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review features several articles designed to help managers step up their innovation game.

In “12 Essential Innovation Insights,” MIT SMR senior editor Bruce Posner and editorial director Martha E. Mangelsdorf tap into the MIT SMR archives to highlight some important innovation research from past years, in capsule form. After a brief overview of the 12 classic insights, take a deep dive into those most relevant to your situation; to facilitate that, we’ve included all of the archival articles featured in “12 Essential Innovation Insights” on this page.

And don’t miss the other three articles in our fall 2017 special report on innovation. In “Harnessing the Secret Structure of Innovation,” Martin Reeves, Thomas Fink, Ramiro Palma, and Johann Harnoss offer intriguing new insights about how to develop a winning innovation strategy. In “Why Design Thinking in Business Needs a Rethink,” Martin Kupp, Jamie Anderson, and Jörg Reckhenrich argue that the popular innovation methodology doesn’t always mesh with the realities of corporate life. And “Creating Better Innovation Measurement Practices,” by Anders Richtnér, Anna Brattström, Johan Frishammar, Jennie Björk, and Mats Magnusson, provides a framework for assessing and improving the metrics an organization uses to track its innovation initiatives.

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Accelerated Innovation: The New Challenge From China

Chinese companies are opening up a new front in global competition. It centers on what the authors call accelerated innovation — that is, reengineering research and development and innovation processes to make new product development dramatically faster and less costly. The new emphasis is unlikely to generate stunning technological breakthroughs, but it allows Chinese competitors to reduce the time it takes to bring innovative products and services to mainstream markets. It also represents a different way of deploying Chinese cost and volume advantages in global competition.

Image courtesy of bylisataylor.com.

Collaborating With Customer Communities: Lessons From the Lego Group

Customer-oriented companies pride themselves on understanding the marketplace and integrating the best ideas into future products. But what would it be like if you found that you had hundreds, if not thousands, of knowledgeable users ready and eager to spend nights and weekends acting as extensions of your research and development department? For the Lego Group, the Danish maker of children’s creative construction toys, this close bond with the user community is not a pipe dream but a reality.

Image courtesy of Flickr user soleir.

The Age of the Consumer-Innovator

It has long been assumed that companies develop products for consumers, while consumers are passive recipients. However, this paradigm is flawed, because consumers are a major source of product innovations. This article suggests a new innovation paradigm, in which consumers and users play a central and active role in developing products. The article also summarizes key findings from studies on consumer product innovation conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan.

Image courtesy of Flickr user marcusnelson.

Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation

Companies such as Procter & Gamble, Cisco Systems, Genzyme, General Electric and Intel are often credited with having attained market leadership through open innovation strategies. By tapping into and exploiting the technological knowledge residing beyond their own R&D structures, these companies outmaneuvered rivals. But while other organizations try to follow their example, many are failing because they neglect to ensure that the outside ideas reach the people best equipped to exploit them.

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Implementing a Learning Plan to Counter Project Uncertainty

For any breakthrough innovation project, specific objectives are often unclear or highly malleable, and the paths to them are murky. Rather than feign a certainty that doesn’t exist, project managers need a systematic, disciplined framework for turning uncertainty into useful learning that keeps the project tacking on a successful course.

Breakthroughs and the 'Long Tail' of Innovation

To understand how breakthroughs in creativity occur, managers must understand how most collaborations work. “Managers first need to understand that invention is essentially a process of recombinant search,” writes Lee Fleming. “That is, I adopt the classic definition of invention as a new combination of components, ideas or processes.” Fleming adds that “Almost all inventions are useless; a few are of moderate value; and only a very, very few are breakthroughs. Those breakthroughs constitute the ‘long tail’ of innovation.”

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Strategic Innovation

How can a company successfully attack an established market leader? How can it find new ways to compete that everyone else has missed? By breaking the rules of the game in its industry to find new sources of innovation, writes Constantinos Markides, of the London Business School. In a study of thirty successful attackers, Markides identified five ways that companies successfully thought about and developed new game plans.

First to Market, First to Fail? Real Causes of Enduring Market Leadership

“Be first to market” is one of the most enduring principles in business theory and practice. But the authors point out that many pioneer companies have failed, whereas most current market leaders were not pioneers. In analyzing why this is so, the authors found that market leaders embody five factors that are critical to success.

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