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LEARNING the context.

Innovation management systems in various forms have always been essential for continued success, although not always widely understood. In this third of an eight-part series, Dr Benjamin W Watson CEng CTPD CEnv MIED looks at how to appreciate the context for innovation

International experts from more than 40 national committees have been developing guidance for innovation management, with standardised terminology, tools and methods to manage interactions between partners, how to handle intellectual property, strategic intelligence and, more recently, idea management. This international guidance identifies eight innovation management principles, central to success.

The last edition (July/August, p9) explained the importance of handling uncertainty and risk by developing an innovation portfolio to sustain core business, and developing new solutions into new and existing markets over time.

Successful innovation also relies on the identification of needs, latent needs and future needs. Some of those may be visible now; others only likely to emerge in the future depending on expected shifts ranging from the technical to societal.

There are many different approaches to systematically build knowledge through a combination of insights and strategic foresights. They require processing, analysis and dissemination for action.

Insights and foresights are not the same. Insights typically focus on the identification of needs, shifts and deeper meaning that may not be obvious or known at the time of the study, yet do already exist. Innovation foresights are generative insights that help organisations consider multiple perspectives of future reality, to be shaped for their advantage, developing a combination of scenarios with recommendations for innovation outcomes.


Before starting to understand any observations, one needs to know where to look: how wide, how narrow and from what perspective. Designers can start from a pre-hypothesis position, casting a wide net looking for signals and shifts, or evaluate observations against known strategic objectives to refine or validate existing concepts and beliefs. The scope very much depends on where one is within its insights initiative. For example, is this for setting future strategy, moving into new markets or developing insights to maintain a competitive edge for existing customers?


When mapping current and future reality, reality can be represented as a system comprising interactions, interdependencies, transformations and meaning. Designers can rely on empathic approaches to appreciate these realities. Supporting methodologies and tools include contextual inquiry, ethnographic research and participatory design. The PESTLE analysis tool can be a useful aide memoire to consider a range of perspectives. PESTLE stands for political, environmental, emotional, social, technical, legal and economic.

Developing and exercising insight-led knowledge offers many benefits. They include improved understanding of the operating environment, increased innovation success as well as increased customer satisfaction, in addition to improved prioritisation, helping guide the organisation on where next to focus.

Dr Benjamin W Watson

International Expert Work Group for Innovation Management Systems. ISO/TC279. Innovation Leader, 3M. Trustee and Councillor, Institution of Engineering Designers. Contact Ben Watson through the IED to learn more.
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Author:Watson, Benjamin W.
Publication:Engineering Designer
Date:Nov 1, 2019
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