Managing innovation can be summed up by two famous phrases. The first is attributed to the scientist Archimedes: « Eureka, I have found it« . It applies to the individual, it is a cognitive and emotional phenomenon that leads him to feel a certain wonder and the pleasant sensation of having found a solution to the problem posed (Lubart et al., 2015). In management, this discovery or « revelation » focuses on a management situation (Amabile, 1988; Carrier and Gélinas, 2011) such as, with reference to Olso’s Manual, the design of a new product or service, a new organization or commercialization, a new business model, etc. (Lubart et al., 2015). Coming from the mind or brain of an individual, this creative idea arises a priori spontaneously from the reorganization of information, facts, knowledge, and experiences that he or she has accumulated during formal or informal research, alone or with other individuals in the organization or not, such as consumers. So this idea does not come alone. It is nurtured by an enabling context and interpersonal relationships that enable such discovery.
But, this idea may prove to be a failure, hence the second phrase put forward by Winston Churchill: « Shoot for the moon, and if you miss you’ll land among the stars« . Even if the idea is original, new and promising, it is possible that it will never be applied in the organization, for economic, financial, technological or marketing reasons (St-Pierre et al., 2017). Furthermore, if it is implemented, studies indicate that the failure rate of innovations that are brought to market is around 85%. Indeed, innovation is only effective from the moment the novelty is introduced, as the etymology of the term indicates. No matter how enthusiastic he or she may be, the bearer of the idea will struggle to convince and interest enough people around him or her, hence the risk of a lack of ownership of the idea within the organization (Royer, 2002). Kotter (2016:12) explains, « The deeper you get into it, the more obvious it becomes that convincing others to ‘buy’ your ideas is both a human issue and a vital skill.« In fact, innovation implies an exploratory approach where the individual interacts both to enhance the value of his idea and to revise it according to the feedback from his interlocutors. Beyond technical knowledge or know-how, social skills, such as empathy, listening, persuasive communication and networking, are just as important.
If we agree that innovation is experimenting and testing, we must admit that trial, error and failure will be part of the experiment as well. The Wright brothers spent three years trying different glider prototypes with multiple failures before they achieved their first successful motor-powered and controlled flight in an aircraft. The failures were a source of learning, allowing the two brothers to improve their idea into an innovation. In the corporate world, innovation also goes through many failures in the form of unfinished, unvalidated, or overly expensive ideas, etc. Even if it does not led to innovations, this knowledge is very useful and feeds the organization’s creative slack, i.e. a pool of ideas from which the organization can draw to innovate again (Cohendet and Simon, 2015; Gay and Szostak, 2019). This consolidates its capacity to innovate or propensity to realize innovations (Hadjimanolis, 2000; Wang and Ahmed, 2004; Kmieciak et al., 2012). It took Nestlé more than 15 years to find the right commercial and strategic formula to sell espresso to a mass market. Several times, the project was almost abandoned after several failures in the market.
A brief discussion of these famous formulas applied to the world of organizations leads us to underline how difficult it is to manage innovation: it involves individuals, the organization, their capacities and resources; it requires a variably long time frame due, among other things, to potential failures; it meshes the internal space of the organization, but also the external space. However, innovation is essential to resist in a competitive market, to differentiate oneself from one’s competitors, or to create a new activity or even a new market in a disruptive manner (Porter, 1996; Kim and Mauborgne, 2005; Christensen et al., 2015). The question that many managers then ask themselves is: how to manage innovation? In other words, how do we find the ideas that give rise to innovations, select them and share them within the organization and then with other stakeholders?
The purpose of this essay is to propose elements of response according to three complementary dimensions summarized in a symbolic way under the three notions: « space, time and matter ».