Managing in the 21st century appears walking on tightrope because markets are global, paradigms shift lightning speeds and innovation spells do or die for many organizations seeking out steady growth and sustainable profits. While leaders call out the vision of companies, at the end of the day, it is the managers’ role to implement efficient, effective and economical processes to attain these goals. The challenge of managers lies in their creativity to adapt to internal and external change, balance innovation with financial efficiency, and reconcile the dilemma of stifling innovative energy with too much management. How could the manager of the 21st century remain steadfast in their innovation without the risk of shedding valuable resource? The answer to this question needs the expertise of a manager skilled with the right attitude to innovation.
II. The Manager
The manager has basic sets of skills to lead the organization into organizing itself to flawlessly become one lean, well-oiled machine that would carry out the company plans. The manager of human resource would make sure the employees are well motivated to do their work par excellence. The manager of logistics makes sure that the flow of materials needed for production arrives on time and at optimum quantities. He makes sure that the tools of the company are always sharp, ready to be useful at any given time. The manager of finance makes sure that cash flow is optimized. The over all managers would make sure that all these departments play in tune like musical instruments of an orchestra, playing in perfect rhythm. The manager therefore of the 21st century is definitely a process-oriented animal.
An efficient organization is managed. An inefficient organization is not managed. There are no gray lines between well managed and mismanaged. At one end the company can have efficient while on one end, the company can become chaotic, depending on the existence of management in the company. It is all too often seen that companies who have managers keen on the designation more than the task and responsibility ends up being mismanaged that means the company is not managed at all.
Learning Point Associates sites the following as 21st century skills needed for 21st literacy.
Basic, scientific, economic, and technological literacies
Visual and information literacies
Multicultural literacy and global awareness
Adaptability and managing complexity
Curiosity, creativity, and risk taking
Higher-order thinking and sound reasoning
Teaming, collaboration, and interpersonal skills
Personal, social, and civic responsibility
Prioritizing, planning, and managing for results
Effective use of real-world tools
Ability to produce relevant, high-quality products
Innovation is a way organizations transform themselves so that they can maintain lead in their respective fields, overtake competitors or improve their processes thereby achieving their goals in a more efficient, effective and economical level. Global markets have seen how innovations in technology and communication increased production and profits. Innovations in systems processes enabled organizations to move in unison better. When organizations are open to change, they will seek out more innovative ways of doing things even if it means sacrificing comfortable zones.
“Innovation isn’t just confined to commercialization of new products. It can also build upon creative new practices, processes, relationships, or business models, and even institutional innovations such as open-source computing — invention occurs in all these domains. And while breakthrough innovations can generate significant economic value, sustaining that value requires a capacity for continual incremental innovations.” (Hagel, 2006)
In any process of change, as the organization or the individual travels from before to after, the existence of losses is needed. Learning takes time. It takes a moment for adults to realize the learning. “A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation. But what it really is, is a culture where people are applauded and rewarded for sharing what works and what doesn’t work. It’s a freedom culture. It is one that takes away fear. I ran a 12-month program where every month I had people email me and share their learning moments. They would all get prizes and in the end we sent one of our employees on a fully paid trip around the world. The first month there were a few emails. Then as they saw they weren’t being punished for this, more came.” (Bounds, 2006)
Transformation takes time. Innovation takes resources such as time. For some companies, time is a valuable and elusive commodity. When time is sacrificed, it must benefit everyone and everything that the company holds valuable. Sometimes there will be innovative ideas that would look good on paper but will never be realized because the company does not have enough resources to implement the change. There are times when corporations do not have enough skills to handle the innovations itself.
“Most innovations fail. Yet companies that don’t innovate die. Managing innovation thus constitutes one of the most difficult and critical tasks facing a manager. Nor is this solely the concern of high tech companies – companies in traditionally “low tech” businesses such as consumer packaged goods (like Procter ; Gamble) find that innovation translates directly into growth in new businesses, and better profits in existing businesses.” (Chesbrough, 2006)
Innovation always spells efficiency that may mean losing part of the employees or collapsing departments. Outsourcing which is predominant in today’s global age has always been an option since time immemorial. Though outsourcing parts of the company operations would help reduce costs, the other company departments that would not be outsourced need to adjust to one; not having the usual department that has always been familiarly there, and two; having a new set of team mates to work with who may be situated across the globe.
Innovation is inevitable if a company would want to survive the tests of the 21st century paradigm shifts. It is inevitable to manage innovation since innovation that is a consequence of the creative mind will always be inherent in each organization. Those companies that decide to stifle the creative mind end up with mediocrity that leads to death of the company. The companies that have skilled managers that embrace the facts of innovation have a chance to outlive his competitors.
IV. Managing Innovation
Management is always thinking of how to do things in the most efficient way, using the least resource to deliver quality service and products. Many processes have been designed, all in the objective of cutting down on expenses, minimizing costs and optimizing resources. Machines made work more efficient. Internet made communication faster. Prefabrication made building more precise. Computer systems made data transfer paperless. And all these efficiencies are still orchestrated by management. All these tools would not spell efficiency if the manager himself does not have the skill to systematize all these innovations. The manager has yet to traffic who goes first, who goes last. He would need to compute, evaluate, regulate and harness these innovative products and ideas into a performing well-oiled organic company.
And sometimes due to the task at hand, innovation remains as plans in the boardrooms or ideas discussed between employees during coffee breaks. But like any dilemma, solutions come to managers whose minds and hearts remain open while keeping in mind company visions and the values that is founded upon by. There are three solutions that this paper managed to elicit from research and insights of managers who have survived the efficiency challenge of innovations.
V. Solutions to the Dilemma
First, the decision to implement innovations is weighed between the short term and long-term consequences. The manager is always thinking of his tactic’s strengths, weakness, opportunity and threats. When the innovative process being weighed benefits the long-term sustainability of the company and weaken the threats to this sustainability and profitability, the manager must gear the company towards this innovation at all costs. The company may go through inefficient delivery of services for a short time but this stage will be temporary. The manager would belt tighten his company processes but will realize the benefits of the innovation in the long run. The manager must define what is short term and what is long term. Depending on the company’s vision and how far its forecasts are, the manager must be smart in his transformation objectives. Smart being; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound.
Innovative ideas help the company prepare itself against destructive effects of growth. Some companies that start out fine by being a small company would find itself hard up when it begins to take a bigger market. It usually fails to anticipate the hard work of growth and the challenge of innovation as have been seen in other multinational’s experiences.
“Failure to anticipate can have destructive consequences. Significant examples of failures to anticipate dramatic outside shifts can be found at organizations with considerable internal resources. Major U.S. corporations such as IBM, GM, Sears, and CBS, just to name a few, all failed to anticipate dramatic external shifts. For example, for much of the 1980s, IBM ignored the signals that the computer industry was changing; although they made attempts to be a player in the PC business, they focused on the mainframe. GM failed to heed signals in the late 1960s of a potential energy crisis, or the increasing attractiveness of small, fuel efficient Japanese cars, particularly on the West coast, signals that were ignored until GM’s market share skidded almost 30% in the U.S.” (Ashley, 1996)
Second, the manager must accept the facts of creativity. Creativity is always a positive characteristic for a company. The ability to create ideas, products and better systems come from necessity, mother of all inventions. However like any kind of creative energy, the manager must process these creative activities and ideas into packages that the company could realistically use. To stifle creative thoughts and ideas leads to more inefficiencies and conflict. It is wiser for the manager to create a proper venue where all creative ideas are heard, written, digested, processed and articulated into fine innovative plans that are geared towards attaining goals of the company. Creativity is inherent in human beings. Managers do not have the monopoly of ideas. The 21st century manager is blessed with multi cultural working environment where diversity of minds can better overcome negative effects of the transformations that will happen while the company implements their innovative ideas.
“The evolving reality of the world out there is now one where serious thinking is needed on the nature of creativity and knowledge in hard-nosed, bottom-line-focused economic application. The world has become one where technology the creative result of ideas and knowledge pervades our lives to a degree never before experienced in human history. Modern technology is no longer just confined to the factory floor and the machine shop assembly line. Modern technology is an in-your-face technology. Fresh ideas for creating and managing modern technologies are called for as these technologies continue to emerge. These technologies make economies more productive, and they alter the pattern of rewards between workers skilled and unskilled. But they don’t do just that. They also subvert the traditional ways whereby societies have created and used new technologies.” (Quah, 2003)
And third, the process to innovate must be founded on good assessments. In any situation, too much or too little will not do any good. Knowing what is too much and too little needs the manager’s awareness of what is happening all of the time. Though there will be different departments doing their own processes, the manager is main overseer of tasks, deliverables and problems. Without proper and timely assessment, the manager would not be able to know if the different activities are taking too long or too short. Proper facilitation of processes is founded on well-done assessments of the situation. Decisions tend to fail when they are founded on wrong and misguided information.
Gathering information is easily done when the manager has the skill to listen attentively to vital signs from both internal and external environments. “One common problem as people gain more authority is that they often listen to others less and less, especially the people who report to them. While it’s true that the higher you go, the less you are required to listen to others, it’s also true that you need for good listening skills increases. The farther you get from the front lines, the more you have to depend on others to get reliable information. Only if you develop good listening skills early, and then continue to use them, will you be able to gather the information you need to succeed. A deaf ear is evidence of a closed mind.” (Maxwell, 2003)
Organizations today are heading for farther challenges of the 21st century. While their leaders look at visions that are far and wide, the managers hold the helm and continue to steer. Being fast is not the sole process towards goals. Being lean will spell growth that can outwit and outlast competitors. Man has time immemorial improved their situation through constant commitment to innovation. Managers will not be managers if they shy away from innovation.
Though the path to innovate is ruthlessly tight, skills have time immemorial led managers to succeed. A lot of decision making will be done and though the manager is at the helm, it is the whole company’s responsibility to ensure that the manager is well informed because a wise decision in this knowledge based century is founded on a well-informed decision.
Embracing creativity is also the manager’s special task. To draw out creativity in his organization will enable him to buffer the problems that innovation will bring. Like a butterfly undergoing metamorphosis, the company will have pains in its transformations but with creative minds, losses will be minimized.
Ultimately, innovation does not happen. It doesn’t happen overnight either. Innovation is not magic, even. It is a process that has to be managed competently, creatively and in a committed manner. Only through this attitude would the manager be more confident to implement innovative ideas and solutions that will help the company in the near long run. For those companies who will not innovate, they will eventually meet doom. If they continue to make their fears to innovate a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone, then they can maintain their efficient existing machines but only for a time. And time in the 21st century can mean less than a decade or less than two years, as shown by how fast the movement of innovations goes from one company to another, from one country to another country, from one culture to the world culture.
Ashley, William and James L. Morrison (1996) Anticipatory Management Tools for the 21st Century . Futures Research Quarterly, Summer 1996, 12(2), pp. 35-50. Used with permission from the World Future Society, 7910 Woodmont Avenue, Suite 450, Bethesda, MD.]
Boris Zlotin and Alla Zusman. February, 1999 Managing Innovation Knowledge: The Ideation Approach to the Search, Development, and Utilization of Innovation Knowledge Southfield, Michigan
Bounds, Gwendolyn. Tuesday, May 23, 2006 WD-40 CEO repackages a core product The Wall Street Journal
Chesbrough, Henry. 2006. Managing Innovation and Change
Hagel, John and John Seely Brown (2006) Funding Invention Vs. Managing Innovation. Insight February 16, 2006. Businessweek. http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/feb2006/id20060216_568704.htm
Maxwell, John C. Real Leadership: The 101 Collection. 2003. Maxwell Motivation Inc. Georgia Corp. Thomas Nelson Inc. Nashville Tenessee.
Quah, Danny. (2003) Creativity and Knowledge: Managing and Respecting Intellectual Assets in the 21st Century. Clifford Barclay Memorial Lecture Economics Department