Why Innovation Management Matters

Nurturing a Problem-Solving Culture in Every Workplace

We all recognize innovation, whether the development of the microchip or the chocolate chip. But what exactly is innovation management?

According to Stanford University, innovation management is the process of taking imaginative concepts from inception to implementation, beginning with “the fostering of an environment where a new idea is encouraged.” This sounds so universally appealing that it might be hard to imagine where this would be prevented. Yet the bulwarks of inertia – earnings paranoia, fear of failure, structural challenges, executive narcissism – can mire innovation like a tar pit.

How do leaders and institutions move from “That’s how we’ve always done it” to “There’s a way to be better than we were yesterday”?


Modern history is littered with companies that failed from a lack of adaptation: BlackBerry, Blockbuster, Polaroid, Sears to name a few examples. In the competitive business realm, effective innovation management allows companies to evolve, stay relevant and remain sustainable.

Corporate ruin, and even just stagnation, is nearly always a top-down failure to respond to a changing market. It can also result from a top-down strategy, issuing directives from up on high with little or no input from those in the trenches who are closest to the problem or opportunity and have valuable input. Successful businesses are those that nurture an inclusive, collaborative culture that remains open to new ideas, embraces humility in acknowledging that no one has all the answers, and is willing to experiment and reinvent themselves.

What better place than the company itself to serve as an incubator for innovation? This isn’t only the purview of nimble startups and small organizations. Netflix built its business model on DVD rentals, becoming dominant as an industry disruptor. Yet after its first streaming trials in 2007, it forcefully pivoted only three years later to become “a streaming company which also offers DVD by mail,” according to CEO Reed Hastings. It then doubled down on innovation by expanding into film and TV production, just a few months after Amazon, going on to win 135 Emmy Awards.


When we think of innovation in healthcare, what comes to mind? For many, it may be fancy diagnostic machines or breakthrough drug therapies. But sometimes it can be as simple as a personalized 3D-printed cover for an insulin pod to destigmatize diabetes for young patients, or a virtual reality game to help children with chronic pain overcome their fear of working with physical therapists.

While medical settings like hospitals and clinics are good at managing patient care, stringent regulations and multilayered administration can often discourage a culture of innovation. Staff in large medical environments often work within isolated silos closed off from each other – we saw this during the Covid pandemic when some hospital departments were doing some things better than others yet. Interconnectivity is essential in reaping shared success.

The American Medical Association hosts an annual Medical Education Innovation Challenge, enlisting small teams to propose a change to one element of medical education that better prepares students to meet future healthcare needs. Nurses, employees on the front lines of medical care, are also welcoming improvements. Nursing Management Journal exhorted that even though the healthcare industry is “innately risk-averse,” nurses must not only embrace technologies like AI, VR and advances in genomic science, nurse leaders should foster a culture of innovation, encouraging divergent thinking and promoting autonomy.


Solving problems is the lifeblood of government. A public sector that naturally yearns for the benefits of innovation management nonetheless finds itself too often hamstrung by obsolete laws, burdensome regulations, burned-out bureaucrats and quarreling constituents. Is it any wonder that many politicians are more focused on the next election cycle than shaking up the status quo?

To accelerate innovation, civic efforts like the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics in Boston are designed to explore fresh and sometimes visionary approaches in seeking to improve the lives of citizens. Working with an inside perspective, as Deloitte has chronicled, “By developing, testing, and evaluating new solutions, and subsequently turning effective solutions into sustainable programs, the team is an in-house solution provider for the challenges Boston faces.”

Along with other local initiatives such as the San Francisco Office of Civic Innovation, myriad governmental programs nurturing bold creative solutions are bubbling up to the national level: from Denmark’s National Centre for Public Sector Innovation to Singapore’s Transformation Office and Innovation Lab. In the U.S., the National Security Innovation Network, a part of

the U.S. Department of Defense, is responding to ever-shifting geopolitical realities in its mission to develop pioneering solutions for national security challenges.

Nurturing a Problem-Solving Culture

A Gallup study revealed that businesses with highly engaged employees enjoy 21% more profitability, 17% more productivity and 24% less turnover. By democratizing participation, businesses, as well as healthcare organizations, governmental entities and others, engage employees in the process of discovery – identifying, sharing and solving challenges – building more inclusive cultures along the way.

The path of innovation management is built on the foundation of fostering a problem-solving culture, focused on four essential steps:

  • Prioritize discovery: Empower employees at every level to value the process of discovery and contribute their ideas. This involves a balance of discipline (clarity regarding goals and processes), permission (supporting and promoting the discovery process), and action (stepping up to help solve problems).
  • Create missionaries: Employees who see the big picture are more motivated to step up and become problem solvers. Executives need to communicate their strategic goals to everyone, encouraging all staff to contribute toward them to understand what the organization aims to achieve.
  • Bring ideas to fruition: Regularly act on employee ideas:gaining mindshare among all stakeholders, identifying the most feasible and beneficial suggestions, then doing what is needed to make them real. This may involve engaging an outside partner to help run an open-source innovation contest, gamifying the submission process, and handling details regarding design and manufacturing in the case of a new product.
  • Reward curiosity: Employees willing to identify problems worth solving and stepping up with smart solutions are the lifeblood of innovation management. Make it a top priority to reward curiosity and recognize every advancement, even the small wins, from new product enhancements to process improvements. This can go a long way to promote engagement and improve an organization’s public image.

Dan Pichette is Executive Vice President of Output, which helps organizations develop successful products and services, document and improve business processes, motivate and engage employees, and manage innovation at scale.


Copyrights © 2024. All Right Reserved. Engineers Outlook.