Why Innovation Cannot Be Taught

Process-driven companies that trust professors to teach innovation are missing out, at least in part, on the real deal.

Innovation_Light_Bulb_ReversedWe are seeing an alarming trend. The wrong people are making millions on innovation—teaching innovation that is.

It isn’t sour grapes on our part. We don’t teach innovation. It’s just frustration. No one disputes the irony: Professors, who have chosen a safe, pragmatic, low-risk occupation and tenured career, are teaching companies how to innovate, a skill that almost always rewards the best risk takers.

What’s going on here? Well, you probably can chalk it up to the law of attraction. Process-driven cultures love process-driven experts. Organizations, just like people, do what makes them feel strong, and nothing makes mature, process-driven companies feel stronger than having a template for doing anything (even if having a completely buttoned-down-ain’t-no-exceptions-allowed template for innovation seems oxymoronic on its face). Need innovation? Simply call in a PhD with a bow tie and trademarked process and watch your innovation portfolio grow. Right? Nope.

Although the temptation is understandable, this road is usually the wrong path for large, set-in-their ways companies to take. Process is usually about mitigating risk, and let’s face it, these companies already qualify as risk averse and need to learn how to take more chances. They must understand how to fail forward, not hedge their bets. So by layering on additional processes they can master to make them more innovative, businesses are actually making themselves less and less innovative by mastering more and more process.

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Source: G. Michael Maddock and Raphael Louis Vitón | Bloomberg Businessweek