Innovation is by far the hottest management issue now and, surely, your organization is abuzz with the rhetoric of innovation. But, here’s a question: Is your organization, like so many others, suffering from a massive rhetoric/reality gap? If you say “yes,” then it is likely your organization is blinded by one or more of the seven deadly myths of innovation:

Myth #1: Innovation can’t be taught.
Few of us were born with the genetic material to think and boldly act like the entrepreneurs Richard Branson, Steve Jobs or Howard Schultz. But many managers extend this fact too far, declaring “you either can or can’t innovate.” Instead, leaders can and must act intentionally and proactively to support innovation and build new skills, such as gaining new perspectives about their industry and customers, building product platforms from idea nuggets and structuring and executing low-cost, in-market experiments.

Myth #2: Innovation is about creating industry-changing big ideas.
P&G requires over $4 billion of new growth each year to hit its targets. While pursuing its motto of “Touching Lives, Improving Life,” P&G focuses on opportunities large and small – all tied to the same theme. Similarly, other successful innovators are not absorbed with the task of only dreaming up blue-sky big ideas. Instead, they look for key themes among a wide range of large and small ideas and translate the themes into transformational concepts.

Myth #3: Innovation is risky.
Too many organizations perceive “knowledge gap” as “real risk.” Real risk has to do with uncontrollable factors such as geopolitical uncertainty and weather fluctuations. The knowledge gap, by contrast, has to do with information you don’t yet know, such as: “Will customers buy it? Can I deliver the promise? Can I make money?” Just because there are many items on the learning agenda does not make the opportunity necessarily risky.

Myth #4: Innovation means creating cutting-edge products.
Great business model innovation trumps great innovative products every time. While successful innovators are mostly associated with products they invented, other equally great innovations have come from individuals and companies redefining the business model. eBay’s peer-review process for creating a trusted auctioning environment and Dell’s supply chain reconfiguration are two well-known examples.

Myth #5: Innovation is expensive.

The concern about high costs results from poor judgment regarding resource requirements and measurements. When an opportunity is not broken into a set of learning experiments, the scope of the upfront resource commitment decision is too big. And, in the absence of appropriate measures for innovation, any expenditure will appear high.

Myth #6: Innovation distracts us from what’s important.

Great innovation should be disruptive. If you are Sony competing with Apple, disrupting the status quo is probably a good thing. The process of generating many new opportunities might appear to be diluting one’s focus, but having compelling new opportunities to pursue actually creates energy and focus for an organization.

Myth #7: Innovation is about giving mavericks the freedom to run wild.

While there are memorable stories of corporate heroes jumping over internal hurdles while creating revolutionary products, innovation is not about randomly removing check and control mechanisms of corporate governance and business processes. Instead, successful innovators take a systematic perspective to creating an innovative organization, installing motivating leaders and enabling employees at every level to contribute.

The Next Leap Forward

Just as embracing, Reengineering has helped many companies dramatically improve their productivity, Innovation has the potential of helping companies make the next leap forward in competitiveness. Unfortunately, while innovation remains a popular subject and many companies are motivated to act, only a few companies have demonstrated success. For the rest, having a good understanding of the key concepts of innovation and dispelling these myths are the first important steps in laying out the right course for action.

By George Chen, a principal of the strategy and innovation firm Strategos, and John Zapolski, a principal of the innovation consulting firm Management Innovation Group.