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  • Writer's pictureDeepNovation

The 9 edges of an innovation manager

Updated: Mar 31, 2021

Within a deeptech innovation lab, you have a multidisciplinary team of multifaceted talents to cover the whole spectrum of innovation management and new business generation. In this context, the role of innovation managers is to support across the whole organization the entrepreneurial and technology centric project teams.

A deeptech innovation lab has 3 important expertise components:

  • Operations: to manage a portfolio of concepts and projects

  • Science & Technology: in particular at the intersect of business units

  • Corporate Innovation: new working models to maximise novelty and value creation

In large corporations, most of innovation labs are usually well operated with strong project management. Tendency would be to bring in management consulting specialists.. this is a good start but also a 'lure'. Organisation would have tendency to compensate with subject matter experts involving scientists or engineers for very single tasks, this is good for well defined projects but don't make sense at early time of high uncertainties.

To match the right equilibrium, large corporations need to bring-in profiles usually not present in the company with people more comfortable in navigating the ambiguity. Achieving this equilibrium is achievable if you start to mix-up multifaceted talents i.e. T or Pi shaped, usually mix of science and business background (PhD+MBA).

We have defined 9 skillsets that a team of innovation managers should cover. It is extremely rare to find more than 3 or 4 of those skills in an individual, in particular in large corporation who are well known for managing badly untypical profiles. A wise management team would have ensured to attract and retain exceptional innovation managers that can master more than 5 of those skillsets.

Illustration: The Vitruvian Man by polymath Leonardo da Vinci in about 1490

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A good innovation manager should at least master the basics of management consultant skills as a pre-requist, being able to work in large corporation culture.

1 - Corporate consulting

  • Define Strategic Roadmap

  • Assign Key Indicators and Metrics

  • Conduct Diagnosis / Recommendation

  • Implement and demonstrate impacts

  • Supervise controlling and finance

Furthermore to this base, an innovation manager should master the core of corporate innovation. This usually follow the Prof. Gina O'Connor framework in industrial companies:

2 - Managing innovation

  • Prioritize focus areas with key stakeholders

  • Design an end to end process to discover, incubate, accelerate radical ventures

  • Develop the global innovation pipeline and shape it into a portfolio

  • Drive customer centric approach with aim to create, foster and expand a network of early adopters across and outside the company


It is important to have those two classic skillsets but no need to be over-specialized here, it is better to extend the range of profiles to have a larger spectrum of activities an innovation team could cover. The strength of an innovation team is therefore in the mastery of the following:

3 - Business model specialist

  • Decompose value chains, supply chains, customer journey

  • Map connections/relations into ecosystems and identify value capture spots

  • Uncover blind spots, review critical hypothesis by gathering insights

  • Reduce uncertainty via iterative learning cycles

  • Use market probes to explore and pivot

4 - Creative designer

  • Guiding the identification and seizing of opportunities

  • Conceptualizing, executing and facilitating workshops

  • Embracing ambiguity with a Human centered focus

  • Connect the technical and operational knowledge into business concepts

5 - Venture analyst

  • Evaluating product feasibility

  • Assessing viability of the business

  • Conducting marketing and market research

  • Data analysis and consolidation

  • Evaluating need in resources

6 - Project manager

  • Design & run process

  • Operations & executions

  • Project coordination

  • Define and plan tasks

  • Manage stakeholders

7 - Technology & Science pioneer

  • Advocate for new science & technology

  • Look at trends and translate their impacts

  • Learn new technical field in a fast manner

  • Navigate in science interdisciplinary

  • Identify indiscernible connections

  • Observe, learn and think originally

8 - Teamwork facilitator

  • Collective Intelligence with effective questioning

  • Help team to find their own answers

  • Guiding individuals in ambiguity by building awareness and relationship

  • Observing facts and feelings for creating synergies within the team

  • Act as a sparring partner to challenge but also develop resilience within the team

9 - Agile coach

  • Identify different trajectories and work backward from scenarios

  • Moving from linear to systemic thinking

  • Work with iteration on testing, capturing learning, adjusting

  • Communicate and share the latest information in regular but short meetings



We did not specified, but of course innovation managers should master their tools and be proficient in the classic ones:

  • Design Thinking

  • Value proposition

  • Business Model

  • Effectuation

  • Hypothesis testing and learning (i.e. lean-start-up)

  • Challenging the statu quo with C-K, TRIZ, SCAMPER...

Of course, each every innovation lab in large corporation can count such innovation managers profiles among their team. Managing the profile of innovations requires a dedicated HR career approach according to Prof. Gina OConnor:

The risk, if HR is not capable to attract and retain such talents, is for large corporations to become too dependent from external provider and therefore outsource a key value driver of the organization, this has been clearly an asset of strategy consulting to tier firms.

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