Why Do We Want Innovations Yet Fear Innovation?

by Jeffrey Phillips

Why Do We Want Innovations Yet Fear Innovation?I was thinking about writing a blog post about corporate culture and its resistance to innovation. I even had this snappy analogy ready about how corporate culture is like a wet blanket thrown on the fire of innovation. Other ideas I wanted to explore included how corporations “but” ideas to death. But it won’t work, but we don’t have the people, but it will distract from our existing products. And so forth.

However, the more I thought about writing that post – and don’t worry – few seconds were lost in that perusal – the more I was certain that everyone knows that culture and organizational perspectives are for the most part inimical to innovation. But what really stumped me, thinking just a bit more, is the dissonance between the reaction many people have about innovation in their organization, and their wondrous, blithe acceptance of innovation from other firms or individuals. It’s almost as if most of us have bifurcated minds – absolutely rejecting the possibility of innovation WITHIN our organizations while simultaneously DEMANDING innovation from other firms.

A case in point to illuminate the discussion. Many of our clients, when confronted with new ideas that may actually benefit the firm by attracting new customers, worry about their ability to produce the idea, market the idea, fund the idea. They worry about how management will perceive the idea, whether or not the organization will fund the idea. They worry about disrupting existing products or cannibalizing their own markets. Every possible exception is made to demonstrate why it will be so difficult to innovate.

Yet these same individuals whip out iPhones at the sound of the xylophone that is now the ubiquitous ring tone. They jot notes on yellow sticky pads that have become a requirement of modern business work. They search for specific terms in a web browser and search engine. They wear the latest in water-proof, wind-proof, sweat-proof, dirt resistant shells. They expect, no DEMAND, innovation in the products and services they buy, and are disappointed when the brands they know and trust fail to deliver ever more innovation.

What causes the dichotomy? Why are so many people unable to imagine their own firms creating interesting, innovative new products and services? Why are so many firms resistant to innovation, when there is clearly so much expectation and demand for new products and services? Why do the same people who “yes, but” an idea to death in their own organization immediately rush out and acquire new products and services? Clearly these innovations came from somewhere – an imaginary land of innovative firms where “everyone” is innovative.

These consumers – who are really all of us – want new products and are evidence of the opportunities that interesting new products and services create. Yet somehow when we return to our desks, doubt and uncertainty creep in. Only certain firms can innovate. There’s not really a market for this. Stick to your knitting and let others develop the new markets. We become economists, who thankfully only have two hands, who say “on the one hand, there might be a market for this idea, but on the other hand…”.

My only conclusion is that the threshold to many corporate office buildings must hold powerful magic that creates temporary amnesia and replaces demand with fear. Every person who “yes buts” an idea in a conference room while texting on an iPhone or Android should take a long look in the mirror. We have met the enemy of innovation and he is us.

imagecredit:k12buzz & verge

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Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.

No comments

  1. Nice post Jeffrey. My simple explanation is……everyone loves innovation until it affects them.

    Saul Kaplan
    Founder and Chief Catalyst
    Business Innovation Factory

  2. Nice, thoughtful post, Jeffrey! You pointed to the reason (corporate walls blocking innovation). This effect can actually be simply understood not as ‘magic’ but as a fundamental risk aversion. You adeptly highlighted the emotion of “fear” in the early part of your analysis. Think about it, I was willing to sit and watch Steve Jobs or Dr. Jarvik take the risks and bring their expensive and fame-inducing toys to market, but for me to put my own job security in the balance in the name of innovating stokes just enough fear for me to be a willing bystander than assertive innovator. The corporate systems and structures that limit risk-taking and cross-fertilization of ideas and investment in opportunity serve to pour cement into this risk averse “form”—making it almost impenetrable.

    (Disclosure: I don’t work in a corporate setting anymore due to my own passion for invention and risk…vive la diff’rence and the entrepreneurial spark! ‘Tis not the path for everyone, but I encourage all who are so inclined to jump in…the water’s fine!)

    • I agree that an aversion to risk may be the culprit in failed innovation efforts, and I really appreciate your extending the argument to an aversion to ‘personal’ risk. Most organizations I work with understand the need to collectively adapt but fear the repercussions of personal failure. Those that are comfortable with failure often gravitate to entrepreneurial activity and this is where we in Canada will collectively be out-competed by emerging markets. Our work is built around bringing best practices from start-ups and artists (yes, artists) into organizations so that risk is conceived of and executed on differently. I recall an old clip from Xerox talking about their culture of change and how staff needed to be comfortable always questioning and improving. The basic idea was that if you worked there, there was more risk is standing still than taking chances.

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