August 01, 2016 / INNOVATION IS HARD
August 01, 2016
The importance of innovation is increasing each year. Some companies are establishing their internal and external innovation teams, focusing more on developing a culture of innovation. This is a change. It is not easy. Resistance can occur due to some practical and psychological reasons inside the organization.
Innovation isn’t easy. If it were, then wouldn’t be having debates about “how we need less innovation but more of the same". The truth is established businesses can and must innovate, but there are challenges they must overcome.
There are various innovation traps related to execution and implementation, as well as conceptual rooted in the way organizations think about what innovation is and what it can achieve:
Solving all of these issues and establishing a well working innovation management system will support the growth of company and it will create a good customer value and profitability. But they have to develop and improve their system continuously to protect their competitive advantage.
Below I elaborate on some of these common innovation challenges and provide some guidance on how to solve them:
1. Prove it
These are the two most dangerous words in innovation, where senior management wants to make sure an idea will work before it is launched into the market. I believe this is the greatest sign that an organization is not aligned and organized to become innovative, because it impedes progress by deliberately blocking ideas that don’t fit the status quo.
Again in larger corporations, there is a reluctance to put new to the world products into the hands of consumers until the product has been fully optimized and tested, because of fear of failure (again a short term reward structure problem). My preference, however, is to get prototypes in the hands of consumers as soon as possible, even mock-ups, so I can begin learning as soon as possible incorporating consumer feedback as early in the innovation process as possible (let’s start with drawings and descriptions and then move to mock-ups, then looks like/ feels like prototypes, and then sub optimized prototypes, etc.). Give the consumer a little credit.
The bottom line is you can’t analyze your way into the future; you have try.
Solving this challenge: Experiment, that is the shortest path to innovation. Nowadays it’s quite easy to prototype and validate new ideas in real-time and in a very short amount of time, which then can give you insight into what will and won’t work.
The point is to be wrong as fast as possible so you’ll know what doesn’t work faster.
2. Underestimating what it takes
Innovation is messy, it doesn’t happen in a straight line. Breakthroughs take years, but senior management wants to see results quickly, but most organizations are not organized to make long-term bets.
Innovation doesn’t happen overnight and senior management in larger corporations is rewarded by today’s results and because of this it is hard to get backing for innovation programs because of their long term nature.
The safe bet is that for something truly game-changing to be adopted you have to keep your expectations in check.
Solving this challenge: Adopt a venture capitalist mindset, think long-term and plan on spending more than you think.
3. Coming to consensus
Consensus kills innovation. It is common in risk averse organizations, it happens when people try to build group consensus about which new ideas it should support. This type of decision making can lead to supporting and funding only the safest ideas, while dismissing radical projects that could transform the business outright.
The most innovative companies don’t worry about consensus. Rather here ideas trump hierarchy, and they embrace passionate discussions on what the best ideas are; not what everyone else is doing.
Solving this challenge: There are various ways to kill consensus, the most useful one is to be led by ideas rather than hierarchy. By doing so, you are open to outside inspiration and new perspectives that will challenge your world view.
4. Who’s responsible for innovation
Typically, organizations want to embed innovation activities in the day to day but it’s of no use if people are not given the time to actually do things that have nothing to do with the day to day.
Another approach is to create separate teams that are not bogged down by the day to day activities, such as X from Alphabet, and let them focus on the long-term risky bets.
Accountability is important, and ultimately without leadership there is no innovation.
Solving this challenge: There is not set way to solve this challenge, some organizations like Intuit have been able to create a dedicated group of innovators that acts as support for the larger core business as well as teams focused on new ideas.
Is it a model that will work for everyone? No. You need to figure out what will work for you.
What you can do to organically drive innovation is create the conditions where people can express and try new ideas without punishment; reward initiative and learning.
Ultimately, leaders need to actively create the conditions and drive innovation into the organization by role-modeling the right behaviors (e.g. accountability, ambiguity and risk acceptance, experimentation, etc).
5. Reframing beliefs
What got you here won’t get you there, success breeds failure. And previous success get people to develop tunnel vision, get stuck in their ways and become risk averse to anything that challenges their beliefs; thus innovation dies without any air time.
Solving this challenge: Innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process, so start by questioning your assumptions, as well as the beliefs you have of what drives success in your industry.
6. Getting metrics right, especially for radical innovations
Related to challenge #2, senior management underestimates what it takes to get it done. But more importantly, assumptions on how to measure progress.
7. Not invented here
Not all the smart people work for you. By leveraging the discoveries of others, your organization can produce spectacular results.
The best ideas and innovations are probably not invented by your organization. But learning to find and work with outsiders calls for a massive cultural change, beginning with getting past the “not invented here” syndrome.
The Not Invented Here Syndrome has a high cost for innovation because it means organizations close themselves from outside inspiration and perspectives. And today, that is exactly how one innovates faster.
Solving this challenge: Innovation today must be managed as an open system, with a far greater external focus. Active source outsiders, reward people for looking bringing ideas from the outside, whether through partnerships, collaborations or the simple act of thinking like an outsider.
8. Cheap ideas
Let’s be honest, most ideas that are launched by established organizations are pretty dull. More “catch up” than “step change”, which is the result of focusing too much on ideas, not on insight.
Our world is full of more of the same ideas because, well, ideas are cheap; insights are hard to get.
Simply throwing ideas at the wall, or taking what already exists and making it 10% better is not a recipe for game-changing innovation; it is a recipe for stagnation.
This isn’t the right way to brainstorm ideas, attitude and perspective are what are needed.
Solving this challenge: Adopt an insights first, ideas second mindset. The best innovations teams are driven by insights because they understand the perspective an insight provides is the seed of a new groundbreaking idea.
9. Silo Mentality
Today we live and work in an age of knowledge where collaboration is a competitive advantage, so being able to share this knowledge is imperative. Many organizations have yet to get the memo, for they still have a silo mentality where certain departments do not share information with others in the same company. This type of mentality will reduce efficiency in the overall operation, reduce morale, and may contribute to the demise of a productive company culture.
Solving this challenge: This is a leadership challenge, it requires leaders to create a unified front to encourage trust, empowerment and collaboration to go from a “my department” to “our organization” mentality.
10. No time for play
Businesses have it all wrong when it comes to innovation because they believe it is additive, so simply adding more innovation programs, more hackathons, more this, more that; will work.
Innovation work is messy and though there are many tools available; it doesn’t move in a straight line. People need time to play with ideas that don’t fit the day to day activities, that means reducing distractions such as unnecessary meetings, bombarding them with emails and overall trivial work.
It’s also important to note that many employees may be involved in too many projects, which leads to cognitive fatigue and overall burnout; leaving zero energy for playing with new ideas.
Solving this challenge: Eliminate the CRAP.
C ….. always need consensus, afraid to make decisions
R ….. risk aversion
A ….. analysis paralysis
P ….. process driven, not results driven
Get rid of the CRAP and you open the door for innovation.
Bottom line: Innovation is a cultural challenge, of mindset and execution. For that reason, it’s not a copy and paste exercise where you take ideas from an innovative company and implement them in your organization as is; you have to define your own culture and mindset.