Definition

innovation manager

An innovation manager is an employee whose responsibilities focus on the development of new products, services or processes.

Although organizations do not frequently use "innovation manager" as a job title, they often create specific positions to oversee innovation teams. Individuals in those positions frequently hold titles such as chief innovation officer, vice president of innovation and product innovation manager. Organizations also expect individuals throughout their management and executive ranks to demonstrate characteristics and skills of an innovation manager to help the organization grow and succeed.

Organizations have increasingly sought out innovation managers as the field of research into innovation has expanded in the past two to three decades. The research shows that innovation -- as well as the management of it -- is a discipline requiring specific skills and protocols, and that those skills and protocols can be taught. Leaders in creating and shaping the discipline of innovation management include Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who is a leading authority on disruptive innovation; management consultant and author Peter F. Drucker; and James M. Utterback, author of "Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation."

Forward-thinking companies known for innovative practices had recognized for decades that innovation management could be learned, and as such they trained their managers in innovation. More companies in recent years have adopted that approach. Meanwhile, business schools have added courses on innovation, and a number of universities now offer degree programs in innovation.

Training, however, is only part of what makes an individual skilled in innovation management. Experience in helping to build something from scratch and then scale it is also a critical part of becoming a successful innovation manager.

Innovation managers are tasked with creating the strategy and culture required for employees to experiment with the right resources at the right level to support that experimentation.

Innovation managers are skilled in project management, strategic thinking and leadership. They're capable of fostering individual and collective creativity, and they're also able to create processes and procedures for ideation, prototyping and production. They're also able to balance risks against the potential rewards of their teams' work, based on organizational tolerance for risk and organizational objectives, as well as other factors.

Innovation managers tend to be creative and visionary, with the ability to see opportunities and the business acumen to shepherd ideas from the visionary stage through to production.

This was last updated in March 2016

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