The only source of sustained competitive advantage, Peter Drucker once said (and is quoted in Innovation Management), is… the ability to learn faster than your competitors.

Do business schools and management educators learn at all – fast or slow?

Consider this. Michael Porter’s phenomenal 1980 book Competitive Strategy invented a new management discipline, known as competitive strategy. In its wake, companies built strategy encyclopedias. Business schools taught strategy core courses. I believe both initiatives were a failure for at least a decade.

But why? Because companies quickly learned the problem was not conceiving a strategy – but implementing it. The problem was not the noun, but the verb – action, implementation. Harvard Business School Professor Bob Kaplan has helped fill this gap – his Balanced Scorecard and Strategy Map tools help companies with crucial implementation. “What companies need is not a VP for strategy,” Kaplan says, “but a VP for Strategy Implementation.”

Now, consider innovation. There are hundreds of books on the subject. And many business schools have core courses on innovation. But history repeats itself. The problem is not innovation – dreaming up new products and services. The problem is implementing the innovations, managing them, organizing them, and wrapping clever creative business models around ideas to achieve marketplace success. In other words: Innovation management.

When we approached publishers in the U.S. with our manuscript, the response was: how many core courses are there in Innovation Management? Well, we said, very few, partly because there are so few well-organized textbooks. Uh-huh, they said. Come back in 10 years. Sage (India), in contrast, understood the need at once.

A few days ago, a colleague drew to my attention a new initiative in Innovation Management – not at Stanford, Harvard or Wharton, but at North Carolina State University, where a Center for Innovation Management has been established, along with a School of Innovation Management, featuring unique new executive programs. As is often the case with innovation, the breakthroughs come not from existing market leaders but from upstarts quick to learn and seeking to gain competitive advantage.

So – is innovation a noun? Or a verb? In grammar, it is a noun. But in business, it is a verb – an action plan for implementing great ideas. In the term “innovation management”, it is the noun, not the adjective, that is the key success factor – provided the noun is treated as if it is a verb. That is the message we seek to convey in our book Innovation Management.