How to Be Innovative at Work: Principles of Success

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "101 Design Methods" by Vijay Kumar. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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How can you be innovative at work? How do you manage crucial projects that require innovation and creativity?

Vijay Kumar’s book 101 Design Methods suggests that to create a successful project that will make your business soar, you need to manage innovation effectively. To do this, you need to follow a few principles to make your company as cohesive and communicative as possible.

Keep reading to learn how to be innovative at work, one step at a time.

How to Manage Innovation Projects

Kumar explains that there are a few general principles you need to follow for you to learn how to be innovative at work so that your company can consistently produce successful innovations. 

First, you need to understand that you can plan and manage innovation projects. If you don’t believe that, you’ll probably end up either shying away from innovation projects or letting them run without enough structure to make them successful.

Second, Kumar says the structure and culture of your company need to promote a free flow of ideas throughout your organization. Different departments like marketing, finance, and engineering need access to each other’s expertise, and workers on the floor need to communicate with executive decision-makers. 

This is because innovation is inherently multidisciplinary: Products and services are never used in total isolation, so you need to consider the whole system of interconnected products, services, and relationships that affects your users’ and other stakeholders’ experiences with your product. 

Further, everyone brings a slightly different perspective to the table, so you need everyone’s insight to find the opportunities for innovation that others have overlooked. Kumar also says that successful innovation requires extensive interaction between the executives who determine corporate strategy and line-level workers like salespeople and engineers.

What Does It Take for Innovation to Succeed?

Kumar implies that all you need to successfully develop innovative projects is a corporate culture that supports communication and a disciplined approach to managing innovation projects. Is this really all it takes to turn your company into an innovation powerhouse? Other authors and innovation consultants tend to corroborate Kumar’s assertion that you do need open communication and effective project management, but they also list additional criteria that need to be met for an innovation project to succeed.

In Inspired, silicon valley executive product manager Marty Cagan identifies 10 requirements for any innovative company. Some of these, such as having capable product managers and engagement between executives and engineers are captured under the umbrella of Kumar’s two prerequisites for innovation. But Cagan also brings up a few ideas that Kumar doesn’t mention. 

For one, Cagan says you need to give your innovation team enough time to identify and develop real innovations. Setting overly ambitious delivery deadlines or burdening the innovation team with too much other work will sabotage the innovation project. As we’ll see, Kumar’s innovation management strategy offers enough flexibility to accommodate this, but he doesn’t emphasize this point the way Cagan does.

Cagan also argues that you need an innovation team without too much turnover because it takes time for the team members to build the relationships that allow them to work effectively together. 

Meanwhile, in Zero to One, venture capitalist Peter Thiel asserts that you need seven things to start up a successful company or product line around an innovative idea: revolutionary technology, unique insight, monopoly status, strategic timing, a great team, effective distribution, and enduring value. You would probably assess whether you have these qualities during the standard tasks that make up Kumar’s approach to innovation project management. But simply looking for unique insight, revolutionary technology, and so forth doesn’t necessarily guarantee that your product ideas will have them.

How to Be Innovative at Work: Principles of Success

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Here's what you'll find in our full 101 Design Methods summary:

  • Why many companies don’t understand how to manage innovation
  • A systematic approach to innovation management
  • Specific tools and techniques you can use on innovation projects

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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