This week IM caught up with Debra Amidon to ask her views on the evolution of innovation management as a profession. Debrah first wrote about intellectual capital in 1987 and became a practitioner as ‘global innovation strategist’ long before it was in vogue. As founder of ENTOVATION International Ltd, she has managed a global network of innovation experts across 67 countries for over 2 decades. She provides us with some perspective and counsel for the future.

What is innovation management to you?

Our profession has evolved beyond a focus on the flow of technology or finances. Knowledge, in the form of ’intellectual capital’, is now the strategic resource to be leveraged at all economic levels. Indeed, the flow of knowledge must be visualized and incentivized from the point of origin to the point of optimal need or opportunity; and the process now operates more as innovation value-system ecology than the traditional, linear value-chain.

Knowledge Innovation – the one competence needed for the future – can be defined as the creation, evolution, exchange and application of new ideas into marketable goods and services for:

  • the success of an enterprise,
  • the vitality of a nation’s economy, and
  • the advancement of society.

Knowledge Innovation – from productivity to prosperity measures of performance – can now be applied to enterprises regardless of size or profit status to build a foundation for future sustainable growth. It is how people learn, enterprises thrive and nations prosper.

What are the most important lessons for an innovation manager to learn?

Knowledge flow, by definition, is a human activity; so the focus needs to be on the environment within which knowledge is created and applied. Over the years, Knowledge Innovation management architecture and standards have evolved.

  • We’ve learned that in the new domain of knowledge economics, what we count matters. As imprecise as it may seem, what we need to calibrate is the intangible, hidden, intellectual wealth of an enterprise—how it is created and leveraged.
  • We’ve learned that the knowledge structures operate as holonomies—nesting of networks—with both local and global scope. We need to understand how they operate as communities and spheres of influence.
  • We’ve learned that the category of knowledge workers— although originally described as high-technology or white-collar—includes everyone; we all have a role to play. We need to determine what motivates constructive behaviors—new modes of interdependence and collaboration.
  • We’ve learned that all knowledge processes can fit under a rubric of innovation—but innovation redefined according to the flow of knowledge. We need to make the process explicit and discover ways to measure performance—how knowledge is created, shared, and applied.
  • We’ve learned the power of knowledge processing technology— advancing in features and receptivity beyond our wildest dreams. We’ve learned that technology – including social media – isn’t an end but a means for prosperous innovation. We need to find ways to take advantage of the advancements and use it as an instrument in the new economy.

Understanding of these complex facets – and the interdependencies thereof – provides a solid foundation for modern innovation management. The prosperity of individuals, enterprises, and nations relies upon knowledge as the resource and innovation as the process.

Do you think innovation management as a profession is headed in the right direction?

A critical mass of leadership has emerged; and globally, innovation is treated as a new industry. We’ve now a plethora of new business models for knowledge markets: knowledge (and know-how) banks, auctions, stores and malls, expert exchanges, idea challenges, social capital networks, knowledge grids, predication markets, competitive venture investments for start-ups, idea management systems and more.

The Knowledge Economy first spawned Chief Knowledge Officers (CKO); but now we find Chief Innovation Officers (CInO) in all industries, levels of government and even academia. The good news is that innovation management has become a profession. The fear is that organizations will – and they already are – racing to establish standards for the profession. Innovation strategy is NOT an extension of business planning; and it is certainly not an evolution of quality or best practice methodologies.

This is a new mindset requiring us to bench-learn more than benchmark. Know how your competitors are innovating, not what might be their market or product positioning. Make investments in start-up companies according to how likely they are to be able to innovate – not on a particular technology silver bullet. We’ve made great progress; but we are all at the base of our new learning curve.

What’s your next big challenge?

We have reached the law of diminishing returns with competitive strategy. Executives now understand the need for new performance measures to track intangible (or knowledge) assets. They also have realized that innovation strategy IS the business and are no longer asking ‘if’ they have a need for a knowledge innovation strategy; but they are asking ‘how’.

The global economic meltdown has left us suspended between the old, outdated traditional financial measures of the past, and the new foundations for sustainable development. Old rules do not apply, but the new rules do not yet exist. Whether or not you believe in a ‘flattened world’, we can agree that knowledge flow – enabled by extraordinary advances in Internet and mobile technology – has led to a rapid leveling of the global playing field.

Regardless of our managerial level, we are operating on new assumptions:

  • A global knowledge commonwealth is replacing the world of nations and blurring industry and geographic boundaries.
  • Our future is increasingly dependent upon the knowledge and success of others.
  • Knowledge is valuable; and innovation is the fundamental platform for progress.
  • Knowledge creates an economy based upon abundance, not material scarcity.
  • Intangible knowledge assets are more valuable than tangible assets and require new indicators of performance.
  • To thrive amidst a chaotic, complex and unpredictable knowledge economy, people need to be inspired to action with purpose and good intent.

Technology and social media have driven a coalescing of resources – human, physical and financial – for mutual benefit. These factors are becoming increasingly knowledge-driven. They provide a foundation for unprecedented global innovation in what are communities of shared interest and goals, or zones of knowledge activity.

These variables have complex inter-locking dimensions – better understood by viewing through three lenses – a triangulation of the Knowledge-based Economy, Society and Infrastructure. This Triple Knowledge Lens facilitates a new common language and shared vision for progress and sustainability.

Various economists have written widely on the concepts of knowledge production, entrepreneurship and the economics of knowledge. Regardless of the label, we need more comprehensive measures to calibrate this unprecedented kaleidoscopic change. So my own focus is three-fold:

  1. International Dialogue about the new interdependent world order emerging in our networked global economy, based upon knowledge flow, innovation systems, and international collaboration.
  2. A Knowledge Innovation Mesh where all communities of common interest – geographic, industry and virtual – can participate in creating a ‘world trade of ideas’.
  3. A World Collaboration Index – incorporating the best of intangible and tangible performance indices, however imperfect – to monitor the impact of building upon the strengths of one another.

Now is the time to strengthen and increase our capability – as individuals, enterprises, sectors and nations – to innovate a new era of ‘collaborative advantage’. Let the learning begin…

About Debra Amidon

A global innovation strategist, Debra M. Amidon, founder of ENTOVATION International, is an architect of the Knowledge Economy and “Drucker operationalized” in demonstrating how his theories can be applied for practical results. An international thought leader and author, she has published 8 books that have been translated into several languages, including Knowledge Economics and The Innovation SuperHighway – acclaimed as the “Innovation Book of the Decade”.

Debra has delivered hundreds of keynote presentations in 38 countries on 6 continents. Her clients are diverse: Fortune 50 companies, government/community organizations and enterprises such as the European Union (EU), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations and The World Bank. Her seminal concepts have become the standard-to-emulate; and “Innovating our future…together” has been her mantra.