From concept to product

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 January, 2008, 12:00am

An eight-day innovation and strategy course from the Australian Graduate School of Management (AGSM) aims to explore some of the key issues in managing technological innovation today, from a general manager's perspective.

Modern technology is moving at such a rapid rate that it is no longer solely the domain of engineers, scientists, and research and development staff - it is now required to be managed strategically at company level, and the AGSM course focuses on equipping students with the knowledge and expertise to do this.

'While innovation has traditionally invoked the image of scientists and engineers working hard in a lab, innovation in today's business should be viewed from a broader perspective,' explained Hann Earl Kim, former innovation and strategy course leader, and now professor at the KDI School of Public Policy and Management in South Korea.

'Innovation is about creating new business models to address the unsatisfied and often unrecognised needs in the market in addition to creating new products and services. Also, innovation is not only about generating new ideas but bringing those ideas to the market and making them commercially successful. To do so, managers need to understand various issues of the innovation process in the context of strategy. That's why the course is called innovation and strategy.' Dr Kim said the role of the general manager was crucial because many of the issues they faced were overlooked or not completely understood by technical staff in the organisation. Technical staff might also have different goals from the company as a whole.

'Innovation is about trying something new. This involves change, which is often accompanied by resistance,' Dr Kim said. 'Unfortunately, it is those who are deeply involved in the technical aspects of an innovation that fail to realise the importance of managing such tension early enough.

'Also, they sometimes keep improving existing products when the market is already more than satisfied with the performance. That is the place where general managers have to step in and rechannel the creative energy of their technical staff in a new direction. It requires them to understand people, the organisation, markets and technology. We focus on these issues facing general managers who attempt to take their companies a few levels up by trying something different.' Dr Kim said that the course would appeal to a wide range of prospective students, and that it was his range that added value to the course because students were able to meet, network and learn from fellow students on the course.

'The course targets the [would-be] managers who are in charge of new business development and organisational change. The student body displays a wide variety of backgrounds and experience, including manufacturing, marketing, finance and government. The diversity makes the course interesting because they bring their unique experience and insights to the class in the context of innovation and strategy.'

He added that most students on the course had at least three years of experience working in a business related capacity and, as such, already had a good understanding of the business environment. He said that although a basic understanding of strategic management and a knowledge of other functional business would definitely help students on the course, they were not essential.

It is also not essential for students to have specific technical knowledge. 'While some cases and examples we use in class deal with innovations in technology areas, we focus on issues that managers need to consider in turning innovative ideas into commercially successful products or services.

'Innovations often accompany changes in perspective, paradigms and political structure of the firm and the industry. These are the areas where managers with a strategic mindset can add value to the innovation process. As we focus on such issues, technical knowledge in any specific field is not required.'

The sheer diversity of the course made it unique. 'We do a lot of group work in and after class, and the input students bring makes the course very interesting. The cases we discuss in class cover low-tech as well as hi-tech industries, product and service innovations, and historical as well as cutting-edge issues. These ingredients with fresh concepts and frameworks make the course interesting.'

The benefits of taking the course were not limited to certain jobs, Dr Kim said, and the course would appeal to a range of people.

'Innovation is a mandate in today's businesses so the benefit of the course is not limited to specific industries.

'The course is recommended for those who are responsible for developing new businesses in established companies, large and small and even start-up firms.'

Over the course of one subject students will collect the course materials three to four weeks before a programme starts, then they attend the class (over eight days) and for their remaining four weeks they prepare for the exam and do the assigned assessment tasks.

Results are released about four to six weeks after the exam.