Understand how innovation works

The more you learn about innovation, the more you understand how the process happens.

Innovation nearly always comprises a long history of small, incremental steps. Arriving at a moment of startling insight or a great idea usually requires a lot of patient development work – trial and error, false starts, dead ends and trips back to the drawing board to re-work your plans.

Most innovations come about as the result of a disciplined, planned and managed process. This means that objectives, phases and timescales need to be agreed, and the project needs be to properly resourced.

The innovation process

For several decades entrepreneurs, scientists, businesses and all kinds of organisations have been pursuing innovation in a deliberate and disciplined way. There is a growing bank of knowledge, tools and approaches for helping individuals and organisations to plan for and manage innovation.

Approaches range from those that are linear (a sequence of set processes) to more iterative, creative, open approaches. Innovation is about much more than just good ideas. Developing something new involves different kinds of activities and all kinds of different people, with different skills and capabilities. We use an 'innovation spiral' to describe the different stages:

In practice however, it’s often a more complex journey – you may skip some phases or repeat others before you get things right. But it’s important to tackle every stage, as the greatest impact comes from connecting them to create a coherent system of innovation.

Innovation is messy, unpredictable and risky, and success is never guaranteed. But by learning as much as we can about how innovation happens, we can be smarter in the way that we pursue opportunities, develop new things and plan for change. 

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