In a few months you might finish your MBA year. Probably you have already started making choices on what job you´d go to. As you read through junior manager positions or senior roles (depending on your career status) something strickens you: the word innovation appears repeatedly! Then you heard it (the word innovation) from job interviewers too. It definitely puzzles you. Were not these jobs about processes and being a boss as opposite to just experiencing high creativity levels in a company?
Yes and no.
Innovation gets “trendy” at certain times, which perfectly explains the over-abuse of innovation in marketing messages (even in job positions). Obviously, not all large companies make that cheap use of innovation. Furthermore, innovation is not only experienced in exciting startup projects like Airbnb and Uber (I think startups are the biggest contributors of innovation in many markets, but that is not the same as being the sole places where innovation skills are used).
Here are two big reasons to learn to think as an innovator (even if you are not committed to be a startuper):
To manage the impact of external challenges. In the last position I served in a large company I had to develop the market for products which were strongly based on technology. I sat in a marketing and product department, next to the business guys and quite far from any engineer or creativity person. Technology was the main external challenge for our company (a global mobile operator), market and competition coming second and third in the rank (but at great distance).
Being a product manager, my responsibility spanned seeing possibilities out of these three external challenges (technology, market and competition). Screening of information, spotting for ideas, prototyping and making decisions (to go on with the launch or drop it) were all part of the process.
This doesn´t necessarily mean I´m telling you are to become an inventor or a creator in your next management position in a mature company. But you have to be sure that innovation (its processes and skills) will play a consequential role in your ability to apply and execute vision in a company (no matter the size). Technology, market, competition are three common external challenges that any manager has an obligation to deal with.
To foster your team´s ideas. If you dream of being a leader and working with your own (dedicated) team, you have a big responsibility towards them. Great leaders facilitate innovation dynamics like debate, experimentation and ownership of ideas.
The point here is not to spin new ventures (although it well can be the case).
A more basic purpose of team innovation is to come out with better ideas on the company challenges you have a big commitment to. I think this plays true even if you find more exciting other grass like a work in highly formalized jobs. For example, financer and you want to lead a team of controllers. Controllers can be good thinkers too.
image credit: The Chopras Global Education
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Marta Domínguez is a startup advisor, strategy consultant, innovation thinker. Innovation educator. I avoid using strategy and innovation in the same sentence as it sounds cheap. Owner of Startup Innovation Bootcamp on slack. Founder of i-Thread consulting. Reach me at twitter: @marta_dominguez