Project Management

Stop Talking About Innovation Like It's Special and Different

Mark Mullaly is president of Interthink Consulting Incorporated, an organizational development and change firm specializing in the creation of effective organizational project management solutions. Since 1990, it has worked with companies throughout North America to develop, enhance and implement effective project management tools, processes, structures and capabilities. Mark was most recently co-lead investigator of the Value of Project Management research project sponsored by PMI. You can read more of his writing at

So here's the thing about innovation: We make a very big deal about it. Organizations—and industries—know that they need to be innovative. It is critical to success, growth and longevity. Organizations that aren't innovating are dying.

And I suppose that's technically true. But it's a little bit like saying that people that aren't breathing are dying. It is an essential, relatively unconscious process. We can manipulate how we breathe—we can breathe quickly, or deeply, or shallowly; we can choose to breathe through our nose, or our mouth. But we don't stop breathing because we stop focusing on it; our subconscious takes over where it left off, and keeps things moving along.

Innovation is pretty much like that as well. We can choose to pay conscious attention, certainly. We can focus on process and approach. We can pay heed to specific products, lines or the marketplace. We can choose to collaborate, and who we collaborate with. But innovation doesn't stop happening just because we stop focusing on it. It's there, a continuing potential capability that is doing its thing alongside the rest of what we do.

Look up innovation in the dictionary (thank you, Merriam-Webster) and you'll find that it means "the introduction of something new; a new idea, method or device." There's not much mystical that is …

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