You’ve read the blogs; you’ve studied the statistics. Now for the first time you can experience innovation for yourself in full work surroundings. Thrill as an innovation culture brings outstanding customer experiences to life, gasp as profitability soars and share in the triumphs of fellow workers as they achieve the seemingly impossible…
A bit far fetched as a film idea? Perhaps so, but it is true that over the past few years innovation has moved from the preserve of the few and is starting to take a firm hold on business practice and thinking. In my Training Zone blog, ‘The 2014 Innovation Challenge’ I highlighted the way in which innovation now sits in the mainstream of business and governmental life, infusing the culture with a new way of agile working, which creates exceptional customer experiences. I also predicted that by the end of 2014 we would start to see the winners and losers, to celebrate the organisations which dared to step up to the innovation challenge.
But with innovation moving into the mainstream, we have to question where all of the expertise will come from to guide organisations onto and along the right path. After all, innovation thought leaders such as myself can only do so much and there is therefore a need to identify and train a fresh wave of innovation specialists to meet the growing demand from business and government, public to private sector.
Of course, successful innovation has to permeate entire organisations and therefore should be the preserve of all, but like any transformational programme, innovation requires a catalyst, a leader, a champion who can develop the innovation strategy and take the steps required to transform the culture. And in some areas we are actually starting to see posts advertised for innovation leaders. Many of these are in fields such as marketing or advertising and many, such as those in manufacturing and pharmaceuticals are more on the lines of ideas creation rather than whole organisation innovation but the fact that they are advertised at all is an important first step. These posts open up the possibility of future careers as innovation specialists, not just working in a consultancy role but being embedded within organisations as a catalyst and transformer.
There is a further important development taking place which will, I believe, firmly cement innovation as a catalyst for change. That development is the way in which innovation is starting to be recognised as a mainstream management/leadership tool. Many universities now include innovation capability within management and leadership degrees and according to the Postgraduate Research website, eight UK universities now offer postgraduate masters ‘management of change and innovation’ degrees.
Prompted by a request to provide advice on getting into innovation as a career by one of the students I’ve worked with at the Centre for Competitive Creative Design at Cranfield University, I was talking to a couple of my colleagues from the innovation space recently about this subject and they’ve kindly offered the following comment:
The Question that is often asked of me is how I got into Innovation? To be honest it was rather a stroke of luck than anything by design. My career history is very much based around design engineering and project management. I was employed as a design project manager focused on innovative solutions for the construction industry, which happened to be part of the innovation function in a large construction business. So that is where I started. Obviously being part of an ‘innovative’ function led me to develop my skills in the arena. Slowly but surely I found myself becoming more interested in the strategy associated with innovation and how an organisation can become more efficient and better placed to serve its customers through innovation. Ultimately this has led me to structure my post-graduate education around the field of Innovation. Over the last few months as I near the end of this education I have asked myself and certainly many of my peers and associates, how do I progress my career in this field and how transferable are my skills to other industries?
The answer to this question is not an easy one, and I guess equally the question of how one gets into the field of innovation. I had one piece of advice that probably resonated with me. It was suggested that the easiest way into innovation was to be technically competent in a field of expertise and convince someone that they would benefit from these skills in the space of innovation. For me this advice was indicative of the maturity of innovation in UK organisations unfortunately. I think business are still struggling in certain sectors to fully understand what innovation is in the first place but more importantly the benefits of having a robust strategic approach to innovation as part of a business’ overall strategy. Too often innovation is seen to be a luxury that can be cast aside in times of financial pressure. Businesses need to get to a point where they understand the value of innovation and that it is not an add-on but rather core to the success of a business.
Needless to say there are many businesses that get it right and have robust, mature innovation strategies that deliver huge benefits to the organisation. Industries need to benefit from these organisations and learn. For me the quickest way into innovation in the UK at the moment is likely to be in a consultative format, but this needs to be backed by a strong core skill set, whether this is in engineering, finance, medicine or IT. It is important that as a country we embrace the value of ‘out of the box’ thinking and challenging the way we approach business on the whole. Innovation is the future, it’s the strategic maturity that will enable us to create more innovative cultures in organisations and the more challenging people out there who want to make this change the better it will be for future cadets.
Andrew Pestana – Innovation Professional
A career in innovation – Some thoughts…
Number 1. Be able to demonstrate innovation experience! To have a career in innovation you need to have a trade that you can fall back on. The most powerful advice you can give is from personal experience, as you are not just wafting some theoretical trip-trap. You can talk about the mistakes you made and what you learnt.
Number 2. Don’t stop learning! Never think you know it all. By all means have an opinion, but being in the innovation space you must be willing and ready to learn something new and question what you thought was the way. Also, make sure you learn from your mistakes – that’s when I have learnt the most!
Number 3. Be passionate! You don’t have a job in innovation; it is a way of being. You would be innovative whether someone was telling you to do it or not, you just happen to be being paid for your passion!
Number 4. Know your stuff! There is a lot of stuff out there on innovation and you need to know about it. You need to know the different theories of innovation and what the latest thinking is. Read books, go to conferences, join in webinars and tweet chats. Have at least one book about innovation that you are reading.
Number 5. Decide what’s your flavour of innovation? Learn from others but be clear about what you like and your innovation angle. Is it the strategic-side, the process-side, the people-side, the inspiring story-side? You must have your own view, but be able to move into other areas of innovation when working with others.
Number 6. Have good timing and placement! With all successful innovation, there is an element of serendipity. It’s the same with a role in innovation; you have to be in the right place and the right time. You can give yourself a good chance by positioning yourself, but there will always be risks. Be innovative in your current role and be on the lookout for the opportunities.
Harvey Wade – Director, Innovation Strategy at Mindjet
As graduates progress through the system, from university to junior management roles and on into leadership or entrepreneurship they will change business practice from within. Innovation capability will become an essential element of leadership and as these new leaders take their places at the helm the transformation will be complete. So for those who are fired up by the challenges of innovation and who ask me how they can ‘get a job in innovation’ I say this:
Innovation isn’t a job but a way of life. Wherever your working journey takes you, into industry or finance, into government or entertainment, your understanding of innovation and your desire to instil a culture of innovation in those around you will always stand you in good stead. Learn about innovation, research it, study its catalysts and its challenges and then take your knowledge out into the world. And whether you finish up as a consultant or a CEO, as a fisherman or a film producer; whatever you attempt will be enriched by your innovative approach. Who knows, one day you may even produce the most innovative film the world has ever seen. Don’t forget you saw the idea here first though!
Everyone says they want or even need to innovate but few actually do. If you want to be one of the few, get in touch and let’s talk.
Got a question? Ask me… firstname.lastname@example.org