Innovation Isn’t ‘Creativity,’ It’s a Discipline You Manage

Too many managers think innovation is just about brainstormed ideas. Esther Baldwin of Intel Corporation explains how measurement, rigor, and IT tools, applied to the innovation process, can fuel business growth.

Innovation, like “quality,” is one of those notions that’s fuzzy to a lot of managers. If it’s hard to measure, it can be hard to think about. But Esther Baldwin is out to change that.

In her 20+ years at Intel Corporation, Baldwin has launched the Innovation Center in Shanghai, China, and built global data centers in Japan, the UK, and US. Now, as research proliferation manager in Intel’s future technologies research organization, her focus is on introducing ways for companies to use information technology more smartly in filtering, capturing, and analyzing innovation ideas. She argues that innovation can be comprehensively managed as an organization-wide discipline—and that companies that who succeed at it will find unexpected opportunities for growth.

Baldwin spoke with MIT Sloan Management Review’s editor-in-chief Michael S. Hopkins.

The Leading Question

How can innovation be turned into a discipline?

  • Simple IT such as database tools can better capture employee ideas and filter information to use today and to save for tomorrow.
  • Chat rooms, video-conferencing, and social media websites that connect employees virtually are critical to innovation adoption.
  • Prepare for initial resistance from traditional innovators.

You’ve written that innovation can be managed as a discipline. Let’s start with that.

I think that there's a lack of understanding for the potential of innovation and information technology innovation. There’s such an opportunity to create breakthrough systems, to fuel growth, to completely transform the ways that companies are managing themselves on the front end and the back end of their processes.

Traditionally, people think innovation is just about creativity, about being able to create ideas. In fact, it's a very disciplined area. Companies really can manage innovation in the ways that they manage quality.

The opportunity is to use IT innovation to manage overall innovation?

Watch the video

Watch excerpts from editor-in-chief Michael Hopkin's conversation with Esther Baldwin.

Definitely. Innovation, as a pure discipline, is the management of the process from cradle to grave. You go from observing a need to coming up with an idea, developing prototypes, and proving your theories. These lead to shifts in design and development, manufacturing, production, marketing, even in refining the business model.

IT innovation, on the other hand, allows you to take advantage of leaps in technology. It allows you to use tools to become more productive, to work faster, cheaper, smarter.

3 Comments On: Innovation Isn’t ‘Creativity,’ It’s a Discipline You Manage

  • ashishdharap | February 19, 2010

    Despite attention to Open Innovation, few organisations have set up the processes and infrastructure to proactively manage the idea ‘generation to implementation’ process and more importantly, to exchange and share ideas with their eco-system (WEdeas not just Ideas).

    Most organisations are not short on new ideas, but they lack ways to manage the process. The solution, very often, is simply a matter of creating an (people, process, technology based) environment conducive to idea “management”.

    Over 2007 – 08, I had done a survey of Executives from Global organisations (most companies were those with Headquarters in The Netherlands)

    The survey showed that organisations have different maturity levels in the way they create, implement and sustain Innovation / Idea Management.

    Based on these observations, I had created the “Capability Scale for WEdea Management©” to help managers understand where their organisations stand currently and where they should move towards.

    Had presented a paper on this Capability Scale at the December 2008 conference of the Strategic Management Society.

  • Esther Baldwin | March 31, 2011

    @ashisdharap: You paper sounds very interesting I will certainly look for it. There is actually an innovation capability maturity matrix in our book and also a management tool for measuring a persons maturity with innovation skills. It sounds as if you took one area of the innovation process (ideation) and went deeper. I look forward to reading it.

  • Is It The Same Thing As Invention? | January 14, 2014

    […] a very disciplined area.” ,says Esther Baldwin of Intel Corporation (see her blog) in an interview with MIT Sloan Review. A complete process can be developed and implemented in order to achieve innovation in an […]

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