In helping businesses and leaders build their innovation abilities, I see certain traits that stifle innovation again and again. Whether they surface in an individual leader or employee, or afflict the organization as a whole, these repeating issues become a hindrance to future success. Here are 12 enemies of successful innovation to avoid on your innovation journey.
Lack of Clarity
It’s not easy to follow someone who does not know what problems they are solving and why. As a leader—especially if you are attempting change—you need a clear vision of the what, the when, the why, the who, and the how to create momentum for those who follow you.
All of this can be clarified in your strategy to reduce noise and inaction. Without clarity, the noise will overwhelm both internal and external stakeholders. They won’t know what to pay attention to, believe, or act upon. Practice clarifying your strategy.
Don’t assume you know the market and your customers without the data to back it up. Many leaders fail to invest in continuously getting to know their customers and what’s important to them, leading to incorrect market assumptions and failed investments.
Customers are innovation’s best friend—they validate your innovation’s value. You should be as much of an expert on your customers and your market as you are on your products.
Lack of Urgency
Innovation is time-bound. Meaning, your internal systems should allow for a quick response when opportunities arise to out-innovate the competition. Customers often expect problems to be solved on their terms, when they are ready rather than when you are, so these opportunities do not last forever.
Even if they don’t expect a problem to be solved right away, you should be ready to respond immediately—before your competition beats you to it.
This is a common missed opportunity. Often, only top management and leaders are awarded for innovation efforts. Ideation and innovation usually fall on them, and they don’t always extend these activities to their teams until after the decisions have been made. Or a select few in R&D or innovation departments are the ones coming up with new solutions.
Truthfully, creativity should be happening at every level of the organization. Ideas and new processes can come from anywhere, and you should foster a culture of creativity to encourage this.
One of the biggest fallacies in current strategy development is the idea that revenue trumps everything. In reality, new markets and the impact of products or services are much harder to measure, and leaders shouldn’t think only of revenue.
Management may make assumptions about revenue, say, 20% growth for the year. But your team likely will say they need to develop new revenue streams—which are not guaranteed to succeed. Those who fail often over-rely on existing products and services, milking everything they can out of what is predictable and avoiding what is unpredictable. This, too, is a mistake.
Instead of looking for guarantees, allow for flexibility in new growth, thinking, learning, culture, new client acquisitions, and more to truly grow a sustainable business.
Focusing on Technology
Technology does not always equal innovation. It can be a result of innovation, but in most cases, it is an enabler. Adapting the latest technology every time it comes around does not mean you are innovative and shouldn’t be your main focus.
Instead, ask how much value the technology delivers for you and your customers. Most market disruptions are actually led by business model innovations: those innovations that focus on creating, planning for, developing, delivering, economizing, and sustaining value. Your investment in technology should be guided by the value it creates—your customers won’t care if it doesn’t increase the value you offer them.
A Top-Down Approach
Most organizations run from the top down, but this is actually a mistake for management. In this system, there’s no way for employee feedback to go back up the ladder after decisions are made. Leadership could be blindly executing the wrong strategy, and employees will simply execute because of the order of authority—even if they know it’s wrong.
This approach kills innovation and creativity and undermines the collective ingenuity of your teams. It’s a reason many employees are disengaged. Create a culture of innovative employees who have the opportunity to offer ideas for how the organization can do better—and listen.
Lack of Structure
Many people have long thought of innovation as a lightbulb moment—random, surprising ideas coming in to save the day. Ideas are only the beginning of the journey. You have to take all of these lightbulb moments through a structured process to actually create the energy that powers innovation.
This is why we created the Six Stages of Innovation. You need a structure to move from idea to implementation to maximization of value. It requires time, discipline, resources, and management to get the outcome you are looking for, so no matter where you are in the innovation process, you need structure.
Failing to Embrace Risk
Being safe is nice, but irrelevance is worse. This is what happens when you do not invest in innovation. As a leader, you should embrace some risks while creating a stable environment. You pay for stability with safety, and you pay for growth with risk. These are not mutually exclusive and should coexist.
Processes and structure offer stability during investment and disruption. Otherwise, when met with disruption those who never learned how to respond fall behind. Measure and manage your risk to avoid irrelevance.
An issue arises when everyone wants data for each and every idea. They don’t always have data because innovations are not data-driven, they are value-driven. Sometimes, your idea cannot be quantified right away when the data is qualitative not quantitative.
Data, while important in decision-making, is not always the driver for innovation. As a leader, embrace the process of discovering the data and leave room for ambiguity along the way. Don’t let your impatience for revenue statistics get in the way.
Making Only Big Bets
Author Peter Sims talked about how if you want to win big, you should start small. To use a sports analogy, home runs in baseball are great, but base hits are just as effective. In innovation, this is why the build-measure-learn method is powerful. Learning is one of the most important investments during innovation initiatives.
As you learn incrementally, you prepare for bigger opportunities. When those come across your path, you are more ready to handle them. Leaders often think investments and innovations have to be big, earth-shattering things—not so. Don’t keep looking for the next big thing. Your competitors should be more worried when you have the bases loaded.
Choosing Power Over People
Power is a critical driver for a lot of people and manifests in many ways: money, recognition, promotion. But power is a borrowed phenomenon. When any of the circumstances that led to your position of power erode, your influence vanishes. To exist as a sustainable and growing organization, the emphasis should be on people.
In creating a better culture where people love to contribute, productivity and creativity are maximized. People learn to contribute how and where they can the best, and customers are valued individually. The investment in people is a recipe for success while investment in power is a recipe for cynicism.