A Recap of Innova-Con 2018: The Maturation of Innovation Management Continues

Doug Collins - Monday, March 05, 2018

Last week I had the good fortune to participate in and present at the Innova-Con 2018 conference. Booz Allen Hamilton hosted Innova-Con at their new Innovation Center across from McPherson Square in Washington DC. The International Association of Innovation Professionals (IAOIP) sponsors Innova-Con as the capstone to their annual cycle of events.

The IAOIP, a non-profit professional society, seeks to raise the level of knowledge amongst the professionals working in the field of innovation management. The IAOIP supports various activities to this end, including accreditation, certification, and training, all tied to a growing, common body of knowledge that the association sponsors.

People involved in innovation management will find the IAOIP a valuable resource. Founded by Brett Trusko and guided by an increasingly diverse board, the IAOIP reports that membership is growing by leaps and bounds. New chapters are starting at a rapid clip, worldwide.

The IAOIP in its development finds itself at the right place at the right time, based on conversations that I had with the members at Innova-Con: practitioners there expressed a need to define, embrace, and master standards for the field in response to their organizations’ call to achieve ever greater levels of innovation.

Innova-Con 2018 attracted a diverse audience of one hundred or so people. Some came from academia. Some came from the corporate world. Some came from federal and municipal government. The audience largely came from the U.S.; however, I did meet IAOIP members from as far away as Lithuania and Bahrain, who had flown in specifically for the event.

As holds true for these types of events, networking with this diverse set of practitioners proved to be the most valuable part of the week. All shared a common interest in developing a deeper understanding of innovation management. I felt as if I were “amongst my kind.”

Several people who attended were just getting started on their innovation journey. Their presentations served in part as open-ended invitations for collaboration and knowledge sharing: “I’ve got the job and the charter, now what? How might I get started?” Several were, by comparison, more experienced hands. They presented their accumulated knowledge: “Here’s where I am on my journey. Here are the practices and tools I’ve applied. These I’ve found useful; these, others, not so much. Here are the results. Who has questions?”

The mix of the tyros and old hands was valuable. Further, the IAOIP members were, to a person, open to sharing their experiences in the field, good, bad, or indifferent, which allowed for refreshing candor on what was working for them and what was not.

Of interest and fascination to me was the desire on the part of the members to gain a degree of understanding of how and when to weave in elements of technique and place.

By technique I mean how might the members apply practices such as design thinking, agile, the startup approach, etc.—each of which has its share of disciples and detractors. Specifically, how might the members, many of whom run the innovation management programs for their organizations, have these practices persist as a means of fomenting a culture of innovation?

Persistence—or how to make these practices “sticky” as expressions of an innovative culture—was a top question.

 By place I mean the physical locations where innovation might be fostered. The IAOIP hosted a couple of interesting sessions on the bubbling, burgeoning ecosystem of co-working spaces, incubators, and other forms of inspired co-location designed to increase the chances of serendipitous encounters between people nursing various ideas.

I found myself dwelling on the topic of place quite a bit. That is, is the growth of these spaces, along with the agreements that govern the interactions between the participants, something of a passing outlier—a colorful, yet brief detour off the main path to achieving greater innovation? Or, are we witnessing the birth pains of some larger phenomenon: namely, the physical restructuring of how work in the mainstream gets done?

There seems to be an unavoidable amount of friction in these arrangements in terms of who pays whom for what, when. There are several agendas at play, some of them hidden from immediate view. And yet, there seems, too, to be definite advantages to exploring these spaces that exist with one foot in the conventional corporate world and what foot in the world at large. People do seem to want to redefine the sense of space for work in ways that align better to the Digital Age.

In closing, the word that comes most to mind as I reflect on Innova-Con 2018 is maturation. Innovation management as a discipline defined in terms of program, practice, and enabling capabilities seems to be slowly heading up the maturity curve in terms of understanding what’s possible when trying to foment a culture of innovation.

For my part, I believe the move towards greater maturity is good for the field, in terms of having more people on the ground who understand what they’re talking about and who see value in gaining further mastery. To this day I find organizations that seek to foment a culture of innovation and who struggle to connect the dots with how, exactly, to do so.

As I understand, many of the more forward-thinking organizations are starting to send their people the IAOIP’s way, as the struggle does not inspire confidence on the part of the organization’s leadership. This immaturity accounts in part for the blindingly fast turnover of chief innovation officers and innovation program teams at many organizations. Greater confidence in the team’s abilities and capabilities should lead to greater longevity, which is critical for organizations who seek to build more innovative cultures over the long haul. The maturity cycle, for all its virtue, advances in fits and starts. The IAOIP provides a valuable service, to this end.

A link to the Innova-Con event site can be found here. My presentation explored ShotSpotter as an innovation, which I cover in part in the following article. IAOIP members have access to the content from Innova-Con 2018, along with the full body of knowledge: join here.

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