12 Essential Innovation Insights

For decades, researchers have published their findings about innovation in MIT Sloan Management Review. Here are a dozen of the best insights.

Reading Time: 21 min 


Permissions and PDF

Innovation is a perennial management challenge. That’s why, for decades, MIT Sloan Management Review has been publishing new research and insights about innovation — from top researchers at business schools as well as from leading business executives and consultants.

For this article, we tapped into that knowledge base. We combed through our archives, looking for older articles with innovation insights that today’s MIT SMR readers might have missed but that still retain wide relevance. We then winnowed down our list of articles and set out to distill 12 key innovation insights from the MIT SMR archives into a succinct format.

We present those selections here, in capsule form, so you can browse through them easily. But you can also dive deep into any of these articles; we’ve assembled all the articles mentioned at https://sloanreview.mit.edu/tag/essential-innovation-insights.

Innovation Insight 1

Innovation isn’t necessarily about new things; it’s about new value.

Innovation isn’t just about developing new products or technologies. In a 2006 MIT SMR article “The 12 Different Ways for Companies to Innovate,”1 Mohanbir Sawhney, Robert C. Wolcott, and Inigo Arroniz encouraged executives to think broadly about what types of innovation are possible. The authors noted that companies within the same industry “tend to innovate along the same dimensions” — whether those dimensions are research and development (R&D), process innovations, or branding. Viewing innovation too narrowly, the authors pointed out, “blinds companies to opportunities and leaves them vulnerable to competitors with broader perspectives.” Sawhney, Wolcott, and Arroniz used examples such as Starbucks, which initially innovated not by producing a different product but instead by creating a different kind of customer experience — what the company termed a “third place” for gathering that was between home and work.

Business innovation, the authors stressed, has to do with new value, not necessarily new things — and comes in many flavors. The authors presented an “innovation radar” so companies can consider 12 different areas in which they might innovate — ranging from method of value capture to operating processes to platforms. “When a company identifies and pursues neglected innovation dimensions, it can change the basis of competition and leave other firms at a distinct disadvantage,” the authors concluded.

Innovation Insight 2

Challenge competitors by playing a different game.

Technological disruption is one way to upend a market, but it isn’t the only way.



1. M. Sawhney, R.C. Wolcott, and I. Arroniz, “The 12 Different Ways for Companies to Innovate,” MIT Sloan Management Review 47, no. 3 (spring 2006): 75-81.

2. C. Markides, “Strategic Innovation,” Sloan Management Review 38, no. 3 (spring 1997): 9-23.

3. M.P. Rice, G.C. O’Connor, and R. Pierantozzi, “Implementing a Learning Plan to Counter Project Uncertainty,” MIT Sloan Management Review 49, no. 2 (winter 2008): 54-62.

4. G.J. Tellis and P.N. Golder, “First to Market, First to Fail? Real Causes of Enduring Market Leadership,” Sloan Management Review 37, no. 2 (winter 1996): 65-75.

5. E.A. von Hippel, “Has a Customer Already Developed Your Next Product?” Sloan Management Review 18, no. 2 (winter 1977): 63-74.

6. E. von Hippel, S. Ogawa, and J.P.J. de Jong, “The Age of the Consumer-Innovator,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 1 (fall 2011): 27-35.

7. L. Fleming, “Breakthroughs and the ‘Long Tail’ of Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 49, no. 1 (fall 2007): 69-74.

8. K.J. Boudreau and K.R. Lakhani, “How to Manage Outside Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 50, no. 4 (summer 2009): 69-75.

9. S.D. Anthony, M.W. Johnson, and J.V. Sinfield, “Institutionalizing Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 49, no. 2 (winter 2008): 45-53.

10. E. Whelan, S. Parise, J. de Valk, and R. Aalbers, “Creating Employee Networks That Deliver Open Innovation,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 1 (fall 2011): 37-44.

11. P.J. Williamson and E. Yin, “Accelerated Innovation: The New Challenge From China,” MIT Sloan Management Review 55, no. 4 (summer 2014): 27-34.

12. Y.M. Antorini, A.M. Muñiz, Jr., and T. Askildsen, “Collaborating With Customer Communities: Lessons From the Lego Group,” MIT Sloan Management Review 53, no. 3 (spring 2012): 73-79.

13. R.D. Austin and R. L. Nolan, “Bridging the Gap Between Stewards and Creators,” MIT Sloan Management Review 48, no. 2 (winter 2007): 29-36.

Reprint #:


More Like This

Add a comment

You must to post a comment.

First time here? Sign up for a free account: Comment on articles and get access to many more articles.

Comment (1)
Jayakumar.K.M. Nair
Here are the & essentials:
Look around
Read the present
Watch your enemies
Watch your people
Drive slow and steady in the right direction 
Avoid disruption
Illuminate, Innovate, Illustrate and Introduce

as I learned during all these years of corporate teaching ./ j k m nair/just google me as jkmnair or jayakumar nair