Innovation a Science? (Perspectives: News and Views of the Current Research * Technology Management Scene)

By Wolff, Michael F. | Research-Technology Management, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

Innovation a Science? (Perspectives: News and Views of the Current Research * Technology Management Scene)


Wolff, Michael F., Research-Technology Management


"Management of innovation today is where the quality movement was 30 years ago," Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen (cchristensen@hbs.edu) told a conference at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in May.

The meeting was convened to honor "the world's top 100 young innovators in technology and business." Technology Review magazine selected the under-age-35 men and 20 women for their contributions in "transforming the nature of technology" in fields from medicine to nanotechnology.

In his keynote address, Christensen recalled that the statistical process control he studied 30 years ago taught that industrial processes possess an inherent randomness that makes deviations inevitable. However, the subsequent quality movement has disabused us of this notion and demonstrated that every deviation has a cause. Discover the cause and you prevent the deviation.

People today are convinced that innovation is, to some extent, random, Christensen pointed out. However, he believes that in perhaps another 30 years, we may find that "innovation isn't nearly as random as it had seemed--it's just that there are a lot of variables that affect our success and we didn't understand what they were."

He called for "serious research" to identify those variables. Then, as we learn to manage them, innovation may turn out to be "not nearly as much of a crap shoot as historically we have thought to be the case."

Four Sets of Variables

Christensen told the meeting he expects to find a number of variables that affect the probability of innovation success within four categories that he described at greater length in his June 2002 Technology Review article, "The Rules of Innovation" (pp. …

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