In Manufacturing and Consulting, a book-length survey of fifty developed nations demonstrates that forty-nine percent of managers surveyed believe that the key to success is in exploiting new technologies. Drawing on their own long study of these organizational challenges, the researchers identify twelve key obstacles that managers facing this task must surmount: the range of competing viewpoints, their inescapable dual role as creator and manager, their inadequate understanding of the technologies themselves, their inadequate understanding of how and why particular technologies might serve their organizations, and their unwillingness to adjust to new methods if they do not understand them well. The survey also demonstrates that leaders are often wrong about which technologies are most important. These findings suggest that the key to success is not finding new technologies as much as exploiting existing ones.
Many studies have shown that businesses that adopt a risk-taking, risk-returning and ambiguity modeling approach to innovation spend far less time on implementing their strategies than those that stick to a more traditional business plan with a prescribed set of activities. The difference may come down to the fact that top management is more attuned to “doing the right thing” than doing the easy way. They are also much more attuned to the fact that there are times when the easy way is simply not the right way, and that managers should be able to withstand pressure from below. The innovation process may not be as easy as it looks, and therefore the right innovation strategy may not be obvious to managers.
On the other hand, it may be that a product or technology has too many risks to be launched in large numbers in an unstable market. New technologies become “trendy” when they solve one problem but create new problems in related fields. A marketing perspective on innovation may look at two examples. One technology, stem cells for example, promises to solve the problem of embryonic stem cell research. However, it creates a whole new set of problems for researchers to pursue, such as how to preserve the stem cells once they have been harvested, how to dispose of them safely, and whether to use the technology to treat diseases or make medicines.
On the other hand, no one person can jump into the field and solve a particular problem. It takes a team of people to implement any given solution. Asking managers to implement new technology requires them to understand the kind of risk associated with it. If the company has a high-technology division, it may be able to implement the solution on its own without outside help, but it’s unlikely it will gain market share by doing so. The managers must decide which aspects of the innovation are more important to them, it’s likely that they will have to decide between being conservative and being aggressive.
The key is for managers to ask questions, think through ideas, and then implement whatever they come up with. They don’t always have to follow the crowd, and in many cases they will need to have the backup of other teams in order to make sure that the innovation being rolled out makes sense. However, no one person can do it all. In fact, sometimes one person in an organization may be better suited to lead the team in an innovative way, particularly if there is limited time to implement the new technology. If the manager chooses this person, it’s important for him or her to explain to the team what kind of guidance they will need to get the job done, as well as how long the turnaround time will be.
When managers take on the role of implementing new technology, they need to put their heads together. The managers need to make sure that everyone in the organization is on the same page, and that includes the rank and file employees. Those who are skeptical about going with an innovation should be convinced by the managers’ explanation of how the innovation will improve the company’s bottom line, while also describing the kinds of risks involved in implementing the solution. When managers implement an innovation, they often find that one aspect of the operation tends to lag behind. This is where the role of a support team comes in. Once the implementation plan is properly in place, and the risk of letting the innovation becomes a problem is minimal, managers can then leave their operators to figure out how to smoothly integrate the new system into the workings of the business.