Seven common pitfalls which can kill your innovation intention.
If I opened this article stating that innovation is vital to the growth and success of any organization, regardless of its size, I would be lying (and writing a boring opening to discourage you from reading any further). So forget growth and success: innovation is crucial to the relevance, and eventually the existence, of any organization.
It is that important.
Innovations fail in thousands of ways. Innovation efforts, on the other hand, have a common cause for failing: the lack of understanding of what innovation requires. Some organizations consistently innovate, while others just play catch up. Why the difference? The reality is that despite the best of intentions, innovation efforts often hit a wall and fail. Innovation must be intentional. In this blog post, I’ll explore seven common pitfalls which can kill your innovation intention.
Lack of a clear innovation strategy
What direction should innovation take? Innovation requires a clear understanding of an organization’s goals, market trends, customer needs, and technological advancements. Without a clear innovation strategy, you may invest in projects that do not align with your business objectives, you may overlook potentially transformative opportunities, or you may reject or table inventions that could keep you relevant. Just as Kodak did when they invented the digital camera, tabled it until their patent expired, and then were killed, by their own invention, by innovators who saw what they were too blind to see.
Resistance to change
Organizations often have established processes and procedures that are difficult to change. Employees may be resistant to change and reluctant to embrace new ideas or ways of working, often because their incentives keep them away from taking risks. This resistance hinders innovation efforts by stifling creativity and preventing new ideas from being voiced, shared and implemented. To overcome resistance to change, you should create a culture that supports innovation, encouraging your people to experiment with new ideas, providing them with the necessary resources, and recognizing and rewarding their innovative efforts.
Innovation requires resources, including financial, human, and technological. Many times organizations do not allocate sufficient resources to support the long road that innovation efforts require for success. Inadequate resources, for example, can result in a lack of means for experimentation and testing of ideas that employees generate. These two tasks are essential to identify the best ideas and turn them into successful products or services. Investing in innovation includes investing in research and development, providing employees with training and learning opportunities, and ensuring they have access to the necessary tools and technologies to work on their inventions.
Poor collaboration and communication
Innovation requires collaboration and communication between different departments and teams. However, siloed structures and rigid hierarchies, which are common as organizations grow, can hinder this collaboration and communication. When teams are not encouraged to work together, knowledge and ideas are not shared, and innovation efforts suffer. To foster collaboration and communication, you can create cross-functional teams that bring together individuals with diverse skills and perspectives. You can also encourage open communication channels and provide opportunities for anybody to share their ideas and collaborate on innovation projects. Google for example, fostered an innovation culture early on by allowing employees to create their own teams to work on their innovation ideas. Google Earth and Google X (self driving car tech) came out of this. Facebook on the other hand, handicapped its people by trying to direct innovation from the top, resulting in a company that does not innovate; to stay relevant, they either copy or buy.
Fear of failure
Failure is an essential component of innovation. Inventions require taking risks and embracing failure as part of the learning process. However, more often than not, failure is perceived as a negative outcome that reflects poorly on the individual or team responsible for the innovation effort. This fear of failure can lead to risk aversion and a reluctance to experiment with new ideas after a few innovations fail. To overcome the fear of failure, create a culture that supports experimentation and rewards risk-taking, no matter the outcome. The founders of Airbnb, for example, received over 100 rejections from venture capital investors. Their idea seemed extremely stupid, until they experimented and proved that it actually made sense. They credit this initial experience with overwhelming rejection to their creation of a risk-taking culture that has made their company an engine of innovation.
Lack of leadership support
Innovation efforts require leadership support, both in terms of resources and vision. Without support from the top, innovation efforts may be perceived as secondary to core business operations, and resources will not be allocated accordingly. Moreover, leaders who do not understand the value of innovation may not prioritize it, leading to a lack of investment in innovation initiatives and a slow erosion of their organization’s relevance. You need the management team to understand the central role that innovation has in the long-term relevance of your organization, and prioritize it accordingly.
Innovation for the sake of innovation
Lastly, another common cause of failed innovation is the pursuit of innovation for the sake of innovation. Organizations may prioritize innovation efforts without a clear understanding of their business goals or customer needs, leading to investments in flashy projects that do not contribute to their vision; or worse, fancy actions – like going to innovation conferences and such, that lead nowhere. This approach can result in a waste of time and resources, and may even harm your reputation. To avoid pursuing innovation for the sake of innovation, focus on customer needs when developing an innovation strategy. Ask yourself how you need to change as your customers and their environment changes. This will help you evaluate the potential impact of each new initiative, ensuring that it aligns with customer needs, your goals, and eventually your long-term relevance.
Let’s use a game of words to conclude: Innovations fail and if you don’t have a culture that adapts to this essential fact of the innovation process, your innovation efforts will fail.
Don’t leave it to chance. Highly effective organizations are intentional about innovation. They decentralize it, they diversify it, and they use deliberate techniques to democratize it so that instead of being the job of few, it is the responsibility of all.