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Do Innovation Consultants Kill Innovation?

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Can you really decouple innovation from entrepreneurship?We are not alone in our belief that innovation in one respect has Plateaued. In his seminal work, The Innovator's Dilemma, Clayton Christensen elegantly explains why big firms can't innovate. But we believe a recent development--paradoxically fuelled by Christensen's theories--is contributing to big companies' innovation struggles: The rise of the innovation professional. In their innovation quest, large corporations and institutions have set up new organizational structures to capture the value of innovation. Innovation managers and consultants have swept into corporate hallways and boardrooms promising a clear, more effective, systematic, and rigorous approach to innovation. But it seems what they are really doing is making innovation more abstract and institutionalized.


The creation of the innovation consultant marks a sea change. Through the industrialized age, innovation was tied to entrepreneurs; now, it seems to depend on salaried employees who are more concerned about securing their pay checks than with taking the gambles that lead to big innovation rewards. Whether decoupling innovation from entrepreneurship will be successful has yet to be seen.

The new breed of innovation professionals we have encountered can be placed in two categories: innovation custodians and innovation word-slingers. The custodians are middle managers assigned to oversee the innovators and their processes. The word-slingers are external consultants that will take corporate managers through endless innovation workshops or blabber on about the aforementioned processes.

The problem with the innovation professionals is twofold. First, they rarely have the stubborn, single-minded maverick attitude that it takes to innovate in a substantive way. Second, it professionalizes innovation, which should be an attitude that organically runs through the culture of an organization. Companies that succeed at innovation--Apple, Google, and GE, for example--have their own innovation DNA that exists independent of innovation managers. They've also been fortunate to have true entrepreneurs at their helms, an aspect that can't be easily replicated by other firms. Sure, not all companies can be Google.

So how does an ordinary, not so innovative company go from innovation-thinking to innovation-doing?

Innovation only occurs if it's an attitude that runs through a company's culture.We believe that a bigger, more diverse, and more creative innovation ecosystem could be inspired by the high-tech, biotech, and the movie industries. These fields don't devise innovation road maps or hire dozens of consultants; instead, they invest in concrete, tangible outcomes. How would film history have looked if Sergei Eisenstein had spent time defending his ideas against consultants warning him against risky movie-making? We mention Eisenstein because he hadn't turned 27 when he got massively funded to make The battlership potemkin, what some regard as the best movie to date and certainly was when it aired. The method relied on combining the right task with the right talent. We believe there is such a method you can follow that improves your chances of developing effective innovation, because when we examine the creative processes involved, it is possible to identify a number of common traits.

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