Can Innovation Management Be a Profession?

Can Innovation Management Be a Profession?The importance of managing innovation as a process is one of our key themes here. Because the success of any single great idea is pretty close to impossible to predict, the best way to successfully innovate is to try a lot of things, and to manage ideas through a process. If you do this, you can become better at innovating.

So innovation can be managed. But can innovation management become a profession? Should it even try?

Howard Gardner and Lee Shulman list six characteristics of professions in an article in Daedalus from 2005 called The professions in America today: crucial but fragile:

  1. a commitment to serve in the interests of clients in particular and the welfare of society in general;
  2. a body of theory or special knowledge with its own principles of growth and reorganization;
  3. a specialized set of professional skills, practices, and performances unique to the profession;
  4. the developed capacity to render judgments with integrity under conditions of both technical and ethical uncertainty;
  5. an organized approach to learning from experience both individually and collectively and, thus, of growing new knowledge from the contexts of practice;
  6. and the development of a professional community responsible for the oversight and monitoring of quality in both practice and professional education.

Many of these are things worth striving for – but we certainly still have a way to go to establish a set of skills unique to the profession & in the development of a professional community. Developing a community of professional innovation managers could go a long way towards improving the practice and outcomes of innovation efforts.

On the other hand, maybe trying to make the process of innovation management routine actually takes all of the innovation out of the process.

I’m not entirely sure what I think of the idea myself, so I thought I’d just throw it out to you.

Do you think innovation management should try to be more like a profession?

If so, what do we need to focus on improving to get there?

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Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

Tim Kastelle




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No Comments

  1. Graham Horton on July 26, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Mozart and Picasso had professions without losing creativity, so I don’t think there’s a danger that professionalising innovation management will drive out innovation 🙂



  2. Drew Marshall on July 26, 2010 at 11:47 am

    Great question, Tim. Very thought-provoking. It seems that the value of a profession is the ability to systematize the knowledge required to meet specific goals so that the knowledge can be readily transferred, and performance can be assessed against a set of commonly understood standards. One of the challenges for innovation is that the outcomes are so divergent that a single body of knowledge may be impossible to define.

    So many elements inform “best practice” innovation: creative thinking, decision making, research, project management. Also, there are bodies of knowledge that come close. The work of PDMA in the product development field ( and the work defining design management, as highlighted by the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto( and the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve ( are good examples where pieces of the skills necessary for effective innovation are being articulated.

    I think before we go down the path “professionalizing” innovation there is much work to be done understanding how it applies at local, organization culture level. See:

    Thanks again, for starting what I think should be a very interesting conversation.

  3. Jeff Perlman on July 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Tim – the question you raise is one I have been pondering recently, coming to the following thoughts: Innovation management has been a profession for qutie some time now. In every innovative and creative organisation, there is always one or more thought leaders who are not only innovative themselves, but inspire creativity and innovation in those around them and are often put in ad hoc creative/thought leadership roles for specific projects. Over time, they assemble a variety of processes and methodologies — from forums like this, from colleagues and friends and evolved from their own experience — to guide the process of innovation in their workplace and to take with them when they move on. This skill is highly valued in any organisation which is genuinely embracing innovation…and can be a nuiscance or even a threat in an organisation which is highly risk adverse. In either case, it is the informal nature of this role in most organisations which would benefit from a bit of maturity: there is now a substantial body of proven innovation management methodologies and solid grounding for formalisation of an innovation management discipline and career path. By the nature of my experience and career path, I would consider myself already an informal innovation management “professional” and would wholeheartedly embrace broader formalisation of the profession. Bring it on and sign me up!

  4. zachary jean paradis on July 28, 2010 at 12:24 am

    It’s already happening and well-defined. Increasing the “hit rate” of innovation can and does happen through repeatable methods which are not focused on sapping creativity from the process but instead exploring breadth and depth of ideas and aligning organizations to deliver on the biggest opportunities.

    We call it Design & Innovation Planning and it’s a major focus at the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. You should familiarize yourself with the program.

    *Disclaimer* I’m both an alumnus and now an adjunct faculty at the school teaching courses in Managing Complexity and Rapid Experience Modeling.

  5. Roy Luebke on August 2, 2010 at 11:48 am

    The short answer is that, yes, innovation can become a leadership role in an organization. It will require the blending of a couple of disciplines though.

    Awhile back, product management emerged as a blend of marketing and research & development. This role was supposed to keep an eye on the future as well as drive short term product launches. In the drive for short term results, product management became very focused on driving incremental product launches.

    Strategy groups used to be popular but fell by the wayside as centralized planning had too many shortcomings. Strategic thinking is still a key requirement to achieving long term growth.

    Innovation leadership can emerge as a key focus area in a company when companies use it as a focal point for identifying and implementing new tools, methods and processes for discovering customer needs (both buyers and distribution channels). Just as product management is the center of a hub-and-spoke guidance system, innovation can be the center link between strategy evolution and customer discovery processes.

  6. Sarah Miller Caldicott on August 10, 2010 at 2:40 pm

    I think rather than a profession, innovation management should be positioned as a crucial skill set that organizations should “groom” key employees for, and urge them to aspire to.

    Being a strong leader of the innovation process means developing competencies in multiple areas, including: value creation; collaboration; synthesis of data and insights; leadership.

    Certainly, one could add more to this list.

    If we observe Thomas Edison and his extraordinary abilities to innovate, he not only led innovation initiatives at his Menlo Park (and West Orange) labs, but taught others within his organization to do so by training them – and giving them hands-on experience with – key competencies required to drive innovation successfully.

  7. Paul Hobcraft on August 11, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Roy is going the way I feel. It took the establishment of Marketing how many years to get truely established as a profession. although it might have been P7G in the 1930’s introducing brand management it really did not come the force (profession)until the late 60’s early 70’s. Today it needs a radical overhaul and getting it in many organizations and Innovation holds the key. already we see Marketing Managers in the past becoming Innovation Category Managers or a myriad of other such innovation titles. So it is establishing itself. Is there a clear model of an Innovation Manager yet?

    The blend is again what roy suggests, a hub and spoke group who have innovation central to their task but specialise in design, customer need, advocacy, execution, piloting product through lifecycles, etc. etc.

    If this can be recognised and achieved then Innovation Management becomes a true profession and meets the six characteristics Tim has opened this discussion with.

    We are not far away.

  8. Dr Stephen Sweid on August 27, 2010 at 4:03 am

    I believe innovation management is similar to quality management a holistic (systemic) matter, whereby many interlinked and balanced factors are involved, and you have to get the right equilibrium and ingredients.

    As such, it might be useful to define a certification or accreditation connected with this profession, as with ISO 2000 lead auditor for example or SAP, or 6sigma etc. This will require the creation of a special professional association dealing with this activity. There are some standards to be applied and so forth.

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