24 February 2021

Innovation: the key pillar for future managers

Author: Marco Di Salvio, International Part-Time MBA Student

A year has now passed since I introduced myself with my first article for the Polimi School of Management community. Back then, I had only high hopes for the path I was about to undertake. Today, as a result of the new knowledge and skills that I have acquired, I have many more convictions. One of the main focuses of MIP’s MBA Programs is innovation, which is covered in many courses, such as the last one I attended: Innovation Strategy, held by Dean Federico Frattini, Prof. Josip Kotlar and Prof. Reinhard Prügl.But first, what is innovation?

In the current economic and social context, innovation is one of the main development drivers and a determining factor for business success. It is talked about a lot, but all too often without its true meaning being known. My favorite definition of innovation is that of the Hungarian biochemist, Albert Szent-Györgyi:

“Innovation is seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.”

One of the most interesting aspects is that this “innovation awareness” no longer belongs only to large companies: in fact, we are witnessing a process of a progressive “democratization of innovation”, also driven by the most recent paradigms, such as Open Innovation, which are multiplying the opportunities to innovate, even in smaller companies. This is, above all, thanks to the lower cost of access to innovative solutions, ideas and skills, a privilege historically reserved for large multinationals.

This is the historic moment when every company should ask itself: “Am I doing things right?” And to achieve this awareness, one cannot only look inside, but also (and above all) to the continuously developing economic and social context that surrounds us.

As the famous inventor, Charles Franklin Kettering, once said: “If you have always done it that way, it is probably wrong.” And this is absolutely true! If the world around us changes, we, too, must change accordingly. And if we haven’t done it yet, we are probably already lagging behind.

Successfully innovating, however, is not always easy. There are some enabling factors that can help achieve the desired goal.

The first of these is having good vision, or the ability of the top management to steer their company effectively towards the chosen goal.

Another important key factor is the culture of failure. While it is essential to have clear methods to avoid the commitment of resources in favor of initiatives that will not be successful, it is equally essential to activate mechanisms for capturing knowledge and learning from cases of company failure.

Finally, the last fundamental factor is to have a well-defined strategy, focused on specific objectives. Frenzy and instinctive decisions can be very dangerous. For example, introducing a very powerful technology, but one which you do not know what to do with, or do not have the skills to manage, can have a negative impact on the performance of an organization.

In this regard, from what emerges from a recent study conducted by PwC, 54% of the managers interviewed argue that within innovative companies there is a struggle to bridge the gap between business strategy and innovation strategy. Both strategies must move in the same direction. Even better, they should be two sides of a single model geared towards achieving economic results over time. And this is even more achievable through the concept of Open Innovation, theorized by the US economist, Henry Chesbrough, in the essay “The era of open innovation”.    According to Chesbrough, “Companies can and must make use of external ideas, as well as internal ones, and access markets internally and externally if they want to progress in their technological skills”. Adopting an open approach, therefore, means innovating by leveraging one’s talents within the organization, but also involving various actors outside the company boundaries.

The result? A much more democratic and much more widespread access to new technologies.

Now, the last question which could come to your mind is: “Ok, in the MIP classes you talk a lot about innovation. Do you really put it into practice, though?”

The answer is yes, if you’re willing to. MIP offers you access to research articles, events and webinars about innovation. Most of all, however, it provides all the alumni with the chance to be supported in the creation and development of deep tech startups, providing services for acceleration, access to funding, mentorship, and advice, thanks to the strong connection to PoliHub, the Innovation Park & Startup Accelerator of the Politecnico di Milano. So what we learn is not just the concept of innovation, but how to make it real. And that’s important, because, quoting Goethe:

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.”

24 February 2021

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