Successful Innovation:
The Intersection of Theory and Practice

  • Conversation Summary

Successful innovation within a corporate setting is difficult to achieve on a number of levels. First, innovation itself is much more art than science, random in some sense. But it also can be directed and channeled by the innovator by using past experience to guide thinking about the future, by knowing how and when to ask the right questions, and by trusting their instinct when interpreting and synthesizing data. Innovators and their managers must also recognize that failure is to be learned from, not punished.

The often bigger challenge, our readers continued, is overcoming the bias against change inherent in a company's existing business model and processes. Traditional financial projection tools break down quickly when trying to guesstimate revenue and profit from new initiatives. Special metrics must be developed to measure corporate creativity, and motivations put in place to encourage and reward success. The strategic importance of "intrapreneurship" is a message that must be broadcast throughout the organization starting with the CEO. In the end, great innovative companies stay that way by developing a managerial class that understands the creative process and creative people, and knows how to usher bright ideas into commercial reality.

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Additional Resources

HBS Working Knowledge, an online forum featuring new work from HBS faculty, offers more from Clay Christensen and articles about managing innovation. And, if you like The Conversation, you may also enjoy What Do YOU Think?, an ongoing dialogue between Harvard Business School professor Jim Heskett and the readers of HBS Working Knowledge.