You can make it as complex as you like, but what really matters in innovation is the simplicity of management and only a minimum amount of bureaucracy. Innovation management is in many aspects different than regular business operations (less predictable, riskier), but in many aspects it is very much alike (basic management practices).

In my conversations lately with innovation managers, this subject has been a common subject. In a time of speedy changes in markets, high uncertainty and tough competition, innovation has become seen as the silver bullet. And innovation managers are under pressure to make it happen. But innovating in itself is not that simple, as many of you know, especially if one wants to innovate radically to generate real competitive advantage.

Companies struggle with all the required cultural changes for innovation to prosper, the complexity to create real good ideas, the never ending new methods for innovation and proper valuation (and understanding) of their portfolio.

Too many possibilities, too much complexity seems to make it impossible to generate consistent success. If this is your case, you might want to hear what some of the successful managers do, namely applying some basic change management principles:

  • Think big, but…
  • one step at the time
  • keep it simple
  • involve people
  • test and adjust when necessary
  • guarantee results and communicate them
  • then, take the next step..

Sounds simple, but it requires a lot of discipline and work and many managers fail to do so. What I do see happening is managers trying to implement a brand new structure without properly doing their homework beforehand. For example, in theory, portfolio management can be as complex as you want it to be, but if you cannot convince people to register the basic project information, fail to do periodic reviews of projects and do not apply portfolio evaluation criteria consistently, you will probably never create a portfolio management culture. The same thing for idea programs: to avoid the risk of total disillusion soon after its launch, test your program and several of its aspects in a specific department and inform participants know you are testing. This will give you the feedback needed for you successful launch at corporate level in a second phase.

Bringing new methods into the workspace which require change in attitudes, policies and procedures ask for time, leadership and involvement and continuous improvement. Only when you have mastered the basic stage of the process or method is the time to build in some more complexity, but only if the extra effort brings more gain than pain. Innovators hate bureaucracy, so don’t create it for them. Let them focus on what they are good at: innovating.

So next time when you implement a new process or method, ask yourself: “Am I implementing just the basics? If the basics have worked for some time, how will I move one?”.  And don’t hesitate to look at your current innovation processes and methods and ask yourself: “does this really need to be this complex?”Can I make it easier for people, without losing the control I need”?

So what management practices do you think companies should simplify to guarantee more innovation results?

About the author

Caspar van Rijnbach, Dutch from origin, lives and works in São Paulo where he is an Executive Director at Ernst & Young’s Advisory. Passionate about Innovation, he has been working as a consultant for over a decade with large Brazilian companies and multinationals to improve their capabilities in innovation and knowledge management.

Caspar is author and co-author of several books and articles about innovation, some of them published internationally and others in Brazil, in Portuguese. Also, he has given classes at renowned universities in Brazil, spoken at both national and international conferences and has lead many in-company courses.