Does Process Inhibit Innovation?

Knowledge Management: Does Process Inhibit Innovation?


by Madanmohan Rao      Oct 29, ‘09

Knowledge Management consultant and author

Email: madan



One of the interactive highlights at the fourth annual KM India summit ( was the debate on process approaches to organisational innovation, featuring David Snowden (founder, Cognitive Edge) and Jagdish Ramaswamy (VP Wipro Technologies). The audience also joined in with their comments and positions; after all, Indians love a good argument! (Read: “The Argumentative Indian,” by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen      :-)


Advantages of using processes for creating and promoting innovations in companies include: creating innovation mindsets among employees, finding outliers, and monetising ideas efficiently. Good examples here: Toyota, well known for process standardisation as well innovation in hybrid-energy cars. In activities ranging from medicine to music, process helps develop expertise and markets.


On the other hand, too much insistence on process may stifle out-of-the-box thinking. Process is good in activities like manufacturing, but needs to be handled carefully and flexibly in the case of idea creation and nurturing. Process (eg. Six Sigma) works well in closed systems but not so well in open systems (when it becomes “Sick Stigma!”). Processes seem to work better in exploitation of ideas rather than exploration of new ideas. Usually, the key drivers for innovation are starvation of resources, pressures of time, and perspective shift.


In sum, processes for innovation need to be flexible, and can be used effectively to eliminate false starts (though challenges can arise in identifying unintended but lucrative uses or byproducts). Innovation processes are particularly important in very large organisations to channel efforts systematically and consistently. The problem is that many managers confuse efficiency with effectiveness.



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