Innovation Management Education

By Professor Thomas Menkhoff, Director, MSc in Innovation, SMU Lee Kong Chian School of Business

As part of Singapore’s national efforts to prepare its citizenry for the demands of the knowledge-based society and to nurture the city-state’s economic clusters, educational institutions continue to roll out new master degree programs ranging from business analytics to clinical investigation. An interesting case in point is the management of innovation.

The term innovation refers to the implementation of a new or significantly improved product, service or process that meets/exceeds customers’ needs at an affordable price. Examples include mobile phones with GIS map capabilities, digital marketing methods (social media), new organizational methods in business practices such as open innovation and so forth. Innovations can range from small incremental improvements such as Nabisco’s extension of the Oreo product line to radical breakthroughs such as Toyota’s battery-fueled Prius. While invention forms part of the innovation process, the latter goes far beyond invention because it embraces the critical process of commercialization so that new products, services or processes can be successfully introduced onto the market.

As in the case of a root canal treatment or when it comes to stitching up a wound, making innovation work is best left to the professionals. While this may sound like common sense, it is arguably not common practice. Although empirical studies about the number of professionally educated ‘Chief Innovation Officers’, ‘Innovation Development Managers’ or ‘Organizational Excellence Specialists’ in Singapore-based organisations are hard to come by, anecdotal evidence suggests that concerns about their organisations’ ability to innovate effectively do keep many chief executives awake at night as ‘real’ innovation talent is (still) rare. Can corporate Singapore afford not to innovate professionally? The answer is obvious. Whether smart(er) business models, smarter traffic, smart(er) health, smart(er) banking or smart(er) ageing, innovation opportunities exist across all sectors of the economy but are not always seized due to the lack of awareness or strategic innovation know how. There is also reluctance at times to utilise available support schemes provided by government agencies such as SPRING which supports a wide range of capability upgrading initiatives for SMEs as part of its so-called Capability Development Grant (CDG) scheme, and the Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) training programmes funded by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) which are customised to develop deep, vertical and horizontal skills across various industry disciplines and job functional areas.

Three well-known, award-winning firms which practice good synergistic innovation management are Biosensors Interventional Technologies, Qian Hu and Singapore Airlines, with its differentiation through service excellence, innovation and superior levels of operational efficiency. What does it take so that more organizations implement management systems that deliver the desired levels of innovation consistently with similar levels of cutting-edge professionalism?

One strategy to trigger improvements in innovation work is to attract, retain, develop and reward professionally trained innovation specialists who are able to think beyond current paradigms and to turn strategically sound innovation ideas and concepts into tangible new products, services, processes and business cases. Provided they have received proper competency-enhancing innovation management education, they will be instrumental in managing commercialisation challenges and market launch with confidence, regardless whether they work for MNCs, financial services firms, statutory boards, hospitals, government agencies or small and medium-sized enterprises. And once the market has accepted the innovation, these specialists will know how to accelerate further growth and create sustainable value through appropriate business development, risk management, financing and value extraction strategies.

To support the innovation culture and in particular, innovation for service excellence, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) is offering up to 10 scholarship places for the Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Master of Science in Innovation (MI) Programme under its Service Excellence-STEP (Skills Training for Excellence Programme) funding initiative. ‘STEP’ is an initiative jointly launched by the Ministry of Manpower and WDA to help Professionals, Managers, and Executives (PMEs) to update their skills, knowledge and expertise to remain competitive in today’s global business climate. Funded up to 90% of the MI course fee, the Service Excellence–STEP Scholarship aims to provide a progression pathway for service leaders and champions who are keen on advancing their careers in the field of service innovation.

More and more enterprise development agencies and tertiary educational institutions are rolling out support schemes and competency development programs in order to enhance innovation management capabilities in business and society. An example is SMU’s 12 month-long Master of Science in Innovation programme, that aims to train graduates who can: (i) think beyond current paradigms in order to discover innovation needs and to envision impact through strategic idea and concept development; (ii) turn innovation concepts into tangible new products, services, processes and businesses; (iii) manage commercialisation challenges and market launch with confidence, and (iv) know how to accelerate growth and create sustainable value through appropriate business development, risk management, financing and value extraction strategies. In combination with SPRING’s Business Excellence Niche Standard (Innovation) which features an ‘Innovation Scorecard for Business Excellence (I-SCORE)’ and other schemes rolled out by Singapore’s Workforce Development Agency, such programmes provide a great launch platform for innovators eager to ‘create insanely great experiences’ for customers and to avoid being disrupted by competitors.

Service innovation is just one of several areas where strategic innovation learning needs exist. Other innovation forms include product innovation (e.g. Dyson’s bagless vacuum cleaner), process innovation (e.g. Wal-Mart’s product distribution system) or business model innovation (e.g. Amazon’s online platform). There are LSO various types of innovations, such as radical innovations (e.g. Samsung’s flat-screen TVs with new LCD technology), architectural innovations (e.g. Sony’s Walkman which was based on reconfiguring existing components in a new way), and incremental innovations (e.g. Apple’s iPod Mini/Nano). Properly trained innovation professionals will be able to drive managed innovation on the basis of winning innovation strategies and a balanced innovation portfolio comprising both incremental and breakthrough innovations in order to extract good value out of innovation-related investments. Innovation experts know how to create real value for customers and to capitalise on that, ensuring that the organization retains some percentage of the customer value it creates in every transaction of the revenue stream. A good example is LinkedIn whose revenues are based on the premium subscriptions they sell to users. Its talent and marketing solutions are attractive to recruiters as well. As the war for talent continues, it is likely that demand for its services will further increase.

Besides the need to support business managers in driving their innovation teams to greater success by effectively organizing internal (or open) innovation management systems, there are other target groups who would benefit from systematic innovation management programmes such as engineers, scientists and designers (by equipping them with commercialization skills), entrepreneurs (to enable them to apply design thinking principles), fresh graduates (who can reap benefits if they are paired with experienced business mentors), health professionals (to leverage new developments in connectivity and monitoring) or social entrepreneurs who wish to dive deeper into the world of sustainable innovation on the basis of new social models. For Asia’s future creative class to rise, a new leadership paradigm is required, too, one which puts a premium on providing talent with meaningful challenges, sufficient autonomy, suitable resources (for example, attractive collaboration space to think outside of one’s cubicle), effective teamwork and plenty of encouragement. Seizing available opportunities for innovation management education here will not only be instrumental in making organizations more profitable but also help to further improve Singapore’s status as a truly innovative, liveable smart city.

Read Prof Thomas Menkhoff’s article on this topic in The Business Times here: