Innovation is both conceptual and perceptual


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In Peter Drucker’s classic essay on the principles of innovation, one of the major points made is that innovation is both conceptual and perceptual. It’s one of the “do’s”–things that have to be done– or conditions that have to be satisfied for innovation to flourish.

Here’s what he says:

“Innovation is both conceptual and perceptual. [This] imperative of innovation is therefore to go out to look, to ask, to listen. This cannot be stressed too often. Successful innovators use both the right and the left side of their brains. They look at figures, and they look at people. They work out analytically what the innovation has to be to satisfy an opportunity. And then they go out and look at the customers, the users, to see what their expectations, their values, [and] their needs are.”

“Receptivity can be perceived, as can values. One can perceive that this or that approach will not fit in with the expectations or the habits of the people who have to use it. And then one can ask: “What does this innovation have to reflect so that the people who have to use it will want to use it, and see it in their opportunity?” Otherwise one runs the risk of having the right innovation in the wrong form.”

There are many examples of having the right innovation in the wrong form–one of the best examples being Philip Reis’ 1861 invention of what some consider to be the first form of the telephone. Reis built an instrument that could transmit music and was very close to transmitting speech. But he gave up when there was no interest in his innovation–the prevailing attitude being that the telegraph was ‘good enough’.  Fifteen years later, Alexander Graham Bell patented his version of the telephone to an immediate enthusiastic response.

Here’s the takeaway: Innovation requires both technical and people skills. The best innovators simultaneously work on the product and go out to discover the needs of their customers and users.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Patrick Lefler
Patrick Lefler is the founder of The Spruance Group -- a management consultancy that helps growing companies grow faster by providing unique value at the product level: specifically product marketing, pricing, and innovation. He is a former Marine Corps officer; a graduate of both Annapolis and The Wharton School, and has over twenty years of industry expertise.


  1. To which I would therefore say two things: (1) it adds weight to my bias against the “creative industry” who flog the BS of creativity as a key to business success because in the context of your post creativity is a right-brain-only function. Innovation, as described by Drucker, covers the total requirement and he implies here and says in other parts that innovation must also include wealth creation.

    (2) with respect to Receptivity, I couldn’t help thinking about social media as I read that paragraph and thinking that this highlights a multitude of the problems inherent in bringing social media into the practice of business.

    Walter Adamson @g2m
    Certified Social Media Consultant
    Melbourne, Australia
    My social spaces and places:


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