When it comes to creating new products or services, imagining new solutions, there's a word I can't stand to hear.  Like garlic to a vampire, we entrepreneurs and innovators must shrink from this word, but unfortunately the word is so common that many people have it in their job title.  The most terrible word an innovator or entrepreneur can hear?  Manage.  Manage is an innovation prevention device.

Some would argue that in larger corporations, the acronym "ROI" acts as a similar innovation prevention device, and it's no surprise to find that managers wield ROI like a cleaver around innovation activities.

Why manage is a dirty word

Manage is a dirty word for entrepreneurs and innovators because of what it suggests.  You can manage things you understand, that are predictable, that are relatively certain.  The old saying goes that what can be managed can be measured.  Moreover, managers are people who seek to "manage" things - ideas, people, systems, equipment - and they expect the things they manage to be predictable, sustainable, repeatable, with little variance or risk.

If innovation is anything, it is not something you "manage".  Creating new products and services may follow distinct models or patterns, but it is by definition messy, uncertain, filled with discovery and iterative loops.  Those who seek to manage innovation find outcomes that look exceptionally similar to their existing products and services.  It is only those entrepreneurs and innovators who throw off the management shackles who create really interesting, disruptive innovation.

What we need is enablers

What innovators and entrepreneurs need isn't managers, or to manage innovation.  Managing innovation is at best limiting innovation, at worst blocking it.  Rather, what we need are enablers, people and systems that understand that innovation is a bit random, messy, uncertain and cannot be managed the way proven, described and repeatable processes can.

The big problem here is that the number one degree in colleges is in business management, and we are taught that management matters.  Further, any organization of any size is full of people whose title and purpose is "management".  Our whole economic system is based on, you guessed it, professional management. Ever wonder why the larger a company gets, the harder it is to innovate?  More managers and more management equals less potential for innovation.

Why does AirBnB innovate while Marriott or Hilton struggles?  Why does Uber innovate while Ford cuts its entire car model line?  We need to radically rethink what a "manager" is in an age where innovation and entrepreneurship is more valuable than sustaining existing products. The day of managing for efficiency is rapidly drawing to a close, and the era of enabling innovation is dawning, I hope.

Published on: May 3, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.