Can innovation and projects go together? Absolutely. As a matter of fact projects can be the epitome of innovation, i.e. projects set-up and run effectively. This is what Tim Brown, CEO of the design firm IDEO, said about this very topic: “So innovation is not a continuous activity; it’s a project-based activity. If you don’t have a process for choosing projects, starting projects, doing projects, and ending projects, you will never get very good at innovation. Projects need some form – you call them something; you run them in a certain way. That sounds simple, but, actually, a good process for getting projects going and one is often not obvious to companies.”
Unfortunately, Tim Brown doesn’t elaborate on the nature of projects he was thinking about. In my own experience successful projects incorporate the culture of learning and innovation. Leadership cultivates learning on the individual and team level. If you don’t take the liberty to make mistakes and learn from them, if you don’t plan in time for reflection and learning, your project is doomed for failure. A project is dynamic in nature. Seldom do we deal with projects these days which blindly follow a project plan based on myopic project objectives which are SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-boxed) but which are not in sync with an overlying project vision simply because there is none. As much as you need a project vision, a purpose and direction for your project, you need to cultivate learning in order to deliver results at the end of the day.
The same applies to innovation. It takes an idea, a purpose and vision to spark innovation and a results-driven approach to deliver. This is at the core of projects set-up for success.
To learn more about Tim Brown’s thoughts on innovation read Mendonca, L. T., & Rao, H. (2008). Lessons from innovation’s front lines: An interview with IDEO’s CEO. McKinsey Quarterly, (November). Retrieved from https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Lessons_from_innovations_front_lines_An_interview_with_IDEOs_CEO_2185.