Rainmaker's Manual. Or, how to hinder innovation.

Before we start, let’s define terms

Besides the obvious pun on the term Rainmaker, which in the American corporate milieu means the “one who makes it rain” (the professional who makes “miracles” happen), I would like to propose a reflection on the difference between “innovation-driven management” and “innovation management” or “management of innovation.”

Innovation-driven management

As difficult as it is to believe in “management of rain,” I think it’s also difficult to imagine a “management of innovation.” The term “innovation management” is, in my view, wrongly used in corporate discourse. The connotations of this term refer not to the effective controlling of innovation, but to an “innovative management style” – an innovation-driven management, or a management that’s sensitive to innovation’s peculiarities. In the end, it seems we should avoid speaking of  “innovation’s management,” or “management of innovation.” Simply by avoiding the use of “of”, even subliminally, can foster a huge difference in approach.

Innovation: essential for survival and impossible to ‘manage’

When looking for more reliable sources on “innovation management” (the concept itself is viewed with some suspicion by the academy: a search in the Scopus database reveals a limited number of articles, with low citation indexes and descending number of publications), you will see that no researchers offer recipes for managing innovation; there is no reference to the “control” of innovation. This is for a very simple reason: although, like rain, innovation is a phenomenon of utmost importance for the survival of organisms and organisations, it is impossible to “manage”. In fact, trying to do so will only hinder its occurrence.

Organisational culture

What is possible and highly recommended, is to have a management model that’s sensitive to innovation – an innovation-driven management. Such a management understands the importance of organisational culture, implementing policies and programs aimed at “environmental education”, at respecting water and its sources. To “control” innovation is simply not possible. It’s as likely as controlling rain. However – to extend the metaphor somewhat –  you can deploy reservoirs and water. You can manage the water that rain creates.  And just as a natural drought can be prepared for and mitigated against, the same approach to encouraging and conserving good ideas can occur with innovation.

Create an environment that encourages innovation

When attempting to control the rain, what will happen most of the time is just a beautiful show of folk dance (in fact, attending cultural events fosters innovation! #ahint).

What generates a fruitful climate with regular innovative rainfall, is maintaining a favourable environment for it. And it can be much simpler than you think. To stay with the the idyllic metaphors: innovation-driven management is like catching butterflies. You can pursue, capture, and exhibit some of them stuck with a pin in a beautiful box in the boardroom. Or, you can cultivate a garden where they will flourish naturally. This garden growing organisation is at the core of innovation-driven management.

Combining the Old with the New

It’s understandable that discourses like these, created under the aegis of absolutism in the 18th century and echoing the notion that “man will dominate and control all nature’s forces,” still resonate today. But, as Hans-Georg Gadamer writes:

“Even where life changes violently, as in ages of revolution, far more of the old is preserved in the supposed transformation of everything than anyone knows, and it combines with the new to create a new value.”

In the same way- any notions of innovation have to retain a healthy respect for how things have been done before, and notions of ‘new’ ways of doing things not pursued for the sake of novelty in itself. Innovation is only of value when there is benefit to doing something in a new way and that’s borne out of common sense – the kind of common sense that knows that doing a dance may not change the weather.