In this article, Heinz Essman, contributing editor from South Africa, introduces a set of proposed fundamental principles for innovation. It is indeed a proposal and we are very interested in hearing your views on this. Welcome to read and then visit the to share your views and discuss with like-minded.

The process of realising benefits from creativity, the innovation process, can be complex. Numerous process frameworks are available to assist companies with delivering consistent innovation. These frameworks, however, always require significant modification for specific instances. So how does one go about making changes without spoiling the essence of the process? Or, how does one go about developing an innovation model from the ground up? Guidance from a set of fundamental principles is the answer.

Declaring a set of principles for innovation “fundamental” may seem presumptuous or even arrogant.

But declaring a set of principles for innovation “fundamental” may seem presumptuous or even arrogant. Doing so would require a thorough understanding of organisational innovation – the driving force behind organisational competitiveness. It would require understanding, and an ability to deploy, that renders it 100% repeatable in all situations. And while there are many who are working on understanding innovation and delivering innovation management solutions, there are none who can lay claim to an all-encompassing and all-relevant understanding. There are certainly experts of various areas within the landscape of innovation, but to “understand” all would (almost) be for business what a “theory-of-everything” would be for science – and innovation, as a management science, is not there yet.

What is however possible is to take cognisance of what has regularly held true, what is seemingly constant over a range of successful and consistently innovative companies, and then, capture this as a set of principles by which innovative companies plan, execute and organise.

…the article essentially has the ulterior motive of testing these ideas…

With this basis, the article proposes a set of principles for innovation. The principles are positioned as a proposal for two reasons. One, they are an arrangement of what has been seen to render organisations consistently innovative by the author over six years of Innovation Management consulting and research and are certainly not claimed to be definitive and all-encompassing. And two, the article essentially has the ulterior motive of testing these ideas with the innovation management community and, eventually, reaching the point that the set of principles for innovation is more robust – striving towards the objective of being “fundamental”. The article and author therefore request your feedback and comments.

The initial set of principles for discussion is as follows:

1. CEO and CXO’s lead culture and drive innovation – it always begins at the top.

2. Innovation Strategy guides business renewal – derive it from corporate strategy, link it to team and individual priorities and objectives, and abide by it.

3. Creativity only becomes innovation once applied and benefits realised – deployment is vital.

4. Accept risk – say “Yes” and “Yes, with condition that…” more often than “No”.

5. Success is desired, but failure is sometimes inevitable – make sure you fail fast (early), fail cheap and fail smart(er).

6. Measure and balance value for the business along multiple dimensions – financial, sustainability, learning, growth, satisfaction, etc.

7. Culture (of innovation) is not a switch (on & off), but a complex arrangement that can be nurtured through careful tuning of

a. Leadership: what management does (not what they say)
b. Policies: prescribed organisational behaviour
c. Structures: how people and teams interact and how this is governed
d. Procedures: the way things are done (not how they are meant to be done)
e. People: all involved, both directly and indirectly
f. Rewards and measures: the ultimate governors of behaviour.

8. Foster community – share, be open, build trust.

9. Engage many perspectives, utilise (appropriately) the “open” in open innovation

a. intensely observe and involve customers
b. engage suppliers
c. involve other departments
d. consult with communities of experts
e. benchmark adjacent industries and competitors
f. build and exploit networks.

10. Think inside, outside and about the box

a. Think inside the box to understand your strengths and weakness,
b. Think about the box to understand your paradigms and constraints, and
c. Think outside the box to understand your customers, your competitors and the environment, and to eliminate stale paradigms and break constraints.

11. Strive to find the unique balance that works for your organisation (and at what time)

a. Open vs. closed approach to intellectual property creation
b. Unstructured creativity vs. structured/rigorous deployment of creativity
c. First-to-market vs. first-in-market, bleeding edge vs. leading edge vs. follower
d. Risk taking vs. risk aversion.

12. Make innovation a core competency

a. Consistently translate opportunities and creativity into business value – innovation is a process – drive and manage it accordingly
b. Continuously explore, build the knowledge-base and absorb into the organisation
c. Be able to think divergently and convergently, but not simultaneously
d. Identify, clarify and manage the unknowns
e. Centralise coordination  and use a common platform
f. Measure, learn and adapt your overall approach à repeat
g. Reward actions and not only outcomes
h. Focus solutions on the “job to be done” – not the tool
i. Task the right people with the right job
j. First focus on effectiveness, then efficiency.

The objective is now to expose these principles to debate by highlighting where they have worked, where they haven’t, proposing deletions and proposing alternatives. This is a process of refinement and it requires your thoughtful input. For this the dedicated forum at is made available.

By Heinz Essmann, contributing editor, South Africa

About the author

Heinz is a perpetual student, having spent much of the last 9 years understanding how companies are built, run and renewed through innovation. He obtained his PhD in Industrial Engineering on the topic of assessing and improving organisational innovation capability. Heinz has more than 5 years of experience in deploying a variety of tools and methods for business building, improvement and renewal as a researcher, business engineering and programme manager at the Innovation Management firm Indutech. Clients range from new and small companies, new spin-off units focussed on innovation, to large corporates and government organisations. He also lectures to final year Industrial Engineering students at Stellenbosch University on the topics of Innovation Management and Enterprise Engineering.