A Master of Science in Innovation?

Innovation. Bam! There it is: the buzz word of the 21st century.

We live in a fast-paced environment and new product or service innovations happen to emerge around us every day. If the world is indeed turning quicker nowadays, or if it’s just the buzzwords like “disruption”, “change” or “innovation” that make us appear that the business world is running on high speed, remains food for though for you guys. One thing that is sure though, innovation is happening around us and it is technological much more advanced than it was 60 years ago.

But innovation is nothing new. The first invention ever was(you might remember if payed attention in History class) the fire, -discovered thousands of years ago by one clever man or woman. Innovations are new and life-changing ideas that are brought into action. One prerequisite is a creative, open mindset,- maybe even a little craziness. In fact, modern ideation methodologies propose shooting with completely “crazy” and “foolish” ideas in order to promote out-of-the-box thinking and shifting away from classical beliefs and assumptions how a product or a service must work or be used. So when it’s all about being creative and having good ideas “How can you have such think as Master Degrees in Innovation?”, ask me people.

I study a Master of Science in Digital Innovation and mostly, I get a weird look and a valuable feedback like “Innovation is really important today.” And I agree, the “science”-part in the header might seem a little arguable and odd at the first point when all you heard so far is about creative and funny ideas. But innovation is much more than just that. You not only need to be able to create these innovative ideas and be able to distinguish the good from the bad ones but also, you need to be able to execute them successfully. This is where the the science plays its magic.

An idea is good when it helps creating value. Companies like IBM, Google or Amazon remained at the forefront of their industries because they were able to create innovative product and service solutions that led to market superiority. In order to remain competitive in our “fast-changing” digitised world, companies need to shift their focus away from the current client and market and project themselves into future markets and prospective needs. This outlook into unknown, ideally yet non-existing markets (“Blue Oceans”) bears many risks a business needs to calculate. Innovation is, in fact, a very strategic field and a crucial part of Business Strategy. Spotting the trends, identifying opportunities and developing ideas to create them and capture value from these ideas requires great strategic and entrepreneurial thinking. Moreover, your innovative ideas should be aligned with your business model and strategy, reinforce your value chain and contribute to making you different or better than your competitors. Even though, they are many frameworks that try to help evaluating the risks and opportunities of entering “the unknown”, you cannot erase uncertainty completely. It is an essential part of innovation as you try to find out what your customers will want to have before even they know it. So how can you be innovative?

There is no such thing as a manual for being innovative. Innovation starts with an idea and ideas are created by you, me and the people around us. So when you ask how can someone be creative, I ask you back: how can you create innovative ideas? See, why would that Neandertaler back in the day have invented the fire? Or why did not matter who it was invent the wheel? It was not part of a business strategy or a business plan but rather a solution to a pain point they had. This is how the best ideas are born: finding a solution to a problem. Often, customer surveys, user experiments or in-depth research can help identifying these pain points in order to create responding solutions. The problem with digital solutions is that retrospectively analysed, they rarely responded to real “pain points” we would have expressed. Who would have thought that a mobile phone today is our pocket-computer, being connected to the cloud, tracking our activity and organising our work-life? Customer needs are ever-changing and the bar is set higher and higher with increased living and technological standards. As mentioned earlier, innovations mostly respond to needs the customer did not even know he had. So how identifying the non-expressed need? How can be invent new life-changing products or services?

In a very simplistic way of explanation, we can say it is about the right people management. A company needs to encourage their employees to develop creative ideas, promote innovative thinking and develop an entrepreneurial mindset and spirit within the organisation. Organisational structure like hierarchies, team building and management, workspace design and work-life-balance play a big part in it too. How can you set a working environment that enhances creativity? Idea and Innovation Management are probably the most complicated and complex fields of Business Strategy at all and a Masters in Innovation tries to teach you how to act as part of it from a management perspective.

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Originally published at makeideasmatter.blogspot.com on October 12, 2017.

References: Bower & Christensen, 1995; Porter, 1996