Who Owns Innovation? Let's Start with Who DOESN'T
Updated: Aug 17
A few years ago, I was wandering around the internet and came across this quote from Herbert Simon, “although the future is not predictable in any detail, it is manageable as an aggregate phenomenon.” A lightbulb went on for me, and it had to do with innovation.
Market-driven innovation is well-represented by Simon’s quote: it’s the process of examining trends, inventions and personalities to identify workflow, tool and market opportunities that enable strategic success. It’s my theory that most organizations don’t innovate well because they don’t have anyone leading that process. There’s no one whose job it is – to innovate.
“... although the future is not predictable in any detail, it is manageable as an aggregate phenomenon.” Herbert A. Simon, The Sciences of the Artificial
Don’t we have anyone in charge of innovation? What about product managers? Product marketing managers? What about the R&D department or the data scientists? What about the CEO? The conversations I’ve had suggest any and all of these roles as possibilities. Yet with each discussion it was evident that, while these roles contribute to the innovation process, they don’t – and can’t – own it.
Product Managers and Marketers Don’t Own Innovation
Product managers and marketers are the team members most often identified as owners of the innovation process, but there are several excellent reasons why those roles shouldn’t be expected to lead that workflow:
First, product managers and marketers are experts on users and buyers, respectively. That division of labor causes the first issue with either of them owning innovation. Buyers often become users and then buyers again at renewal time. Sometimes users have no say in the product they use, and sometimes buyers don’t understand the product they buy at all – and that’s fine with them. The fluidity of buyer and user activities, combined with the limitations of looking at personas as only buyers or users, are good reasons why neither product nor marketing management is ideally suited to lead innovation. The individual who does so needs to establish a 360-degree view of market personas; not only as buyers and users, but as participants in a day-to-day function, as players in group workflows and even as part of a society as a whole.
Another reason product management and marketing teams aren’t leading innovation is that they must, by definition, be focused on the needs of today’s buyers and users. It’s all they can do to keep up with that requirement! Someone scanning the horizon for new opportunities will have a hard time balancing that work with the competitive realities and urgent market needs of the next 3-6 months.
Innovation is the process of examining trends, inventions and personalities to identify workflow, tool and market opportunities that enable strategic success.
Lastly – the word “product” in these titles is another reason why they can’t own innovation. Some of the most disruptive innovations of the past few decades have been companies offering the exact same product through a different sales channel, repurposing it to solve a new problem or pricing it in a way that engages a new market. Product managers and marketers need to be experts on a product; expecting them to connect the dots on emerging societal, technology, pricing and delivery options as well is asking too much.
Neither Does R&D
What about the Research and Development team? They’re certainly forward thinking! They’re always experimenting, building new technology and defining cutting-edge ways of solving problems. Are they in charge of innovation? No. R&D is in charge of invention. They’re focused on creating new tools, not opening new markets.
Market Research? Nope
Okay – how about the market research or data science teams? They’re out gathering all that market knowledge. Shouldn’t they own innovation? Again, no. Much like the engineers and developers that build the products you take to market, market researchers are the experts on how to build tools such as surveys and data queries to gather useful market knowledge, but not the experts on what to gather. They’re not responsible for deciding what the targets of that research should be, what to look for, or what to do next.
Even the CEO Doesn’t Own Innovation
Often teams look to their CEO to lead innovation. In early-stage startups, the CEO may indeed be the innovator – this is the person who identified the opportunity around which the startup started up, after all. But as companies grow, executives have duties that take them farther from the market than the person who owns innovation can be. That said, in the absence of an innovation owner, organizations may mythologize their CEO’s uncanny ability to “predict” the market and expect them to come up with brainwave after brainwave to move the company forward. This perspective is neither scalable nor likely to return the best results.
So - Who DOES Own It?
That’s just it. Right now in most organizations there’s no one who’s expected, educated and enabled to own innovation. It’s time to change that. It’s time to introduce the role of the Market Strategist. Come back next week to learn more about this game-changing role.
About the Author
Diane Pierson is the Founder and Principal Market Strategist of Innovate on Purpose, a consultancy enabling successful product innovation for tech companies through strategic focus and powerful go-to-market strategies. Diane is also a visiting instructor at Pragmatic Institute. Contact Diane at email@example.com.