Why Innovation Fails…

by Stephan Vincent

Our problem-solving abilities are now commoditized or digitized

I have a firm belief that to stay relevant and be successful in this ever-changing, ultra-competitive, whacky world, we actually need to upgrade the way we think on a permanent basis. To think the same as we always have is to fall behind. The things that used to make us successful no longer work, your old thinking is now taken for granted, and our problem-solving abilities are now commoditized or digitized.

As Wal-Mart director Jack Shewmaker once said, “the world is changing and Wal-Mart has to change, but I’m not sure it is changing fast enough”. This was 8 years ago, and the company is still trying to find its future path.

It is not whether you have fast smarts in spades that ultimately matters, but the version of thinking that you employ that determines your compatibility with these changing times.
The best way to outperform the competition is to out-think the competition. The search for constant innovation, self-actualization is the key to success. However, many companies fail to innovate, despite their good will.

In a recent survey I read, participants in majority pointed their fingers to the lack of innovation engagement from their leadership. Although leadership can be the force behind innovation, all components of an organization must be change agents.

In a Linked-In post in May 2013, Gijs van Wulfen identifies 10 problems at the start of innovation.

Here are my top 10 reasons why innovation fails:

  1. Lack of clarity of what the organization’s mission is, and by extension what its brand is about. Leadership may encourage innovation, but without clear direction, the company’s to-be change agents lose sight on how they can make a difference.
  2. Unrealistic expectations from top management regarding the resources and time required in carrying on innovation, lack of resources allocated to innovation, in terms of budget, infrastructure and people. So-called leaders don’t have a real clue of the complexity of innovation, starve it of its essential resources or just want to stay well within their comfort zone of existing product and technology understanding. This reluctance to push innovation, to extend capabilities and provide it with the right capabilities ends up in these continuing failures.
  3. Stick to conventions; follow the same thinking pattern over and over again. Not to explore all the types of innovation available does not make sound business sense. This shows a lack of real involvement, comprehension, understanding and engagement. Equally, working with the same “creative” team time again and again breaks any aspiration from the rest of the company’s staff to come up with a different approach. If this “creative” team was so innovative, the results would be obvious.
  4. Work in silos: this comes from leadership as well, as they fail to understand the value of building up the capabilities for broader collaborations across teams and areas of expertise within the organization.
  5. Wrong people in place: leadership place “their” people by favoritism to on work “innovative” projects. They constrain the very essence that gives their organization its growth by holding back or not pushing for the best people to be engaged within the projects.
  6. Lack of innovation strategy, where the emphasis is placed in far too much on idea generation and not on execution. Ideas will stall, leadership will not allocate resources adequately to carry through innovation.
  7. Appropriation of ideas by leadership who kill innovation: leadership will take ideas to make them their own, transforming concepts to fit their “narrow” views, thus disengaging the very ones who came up with innovative ideas.
  8. The management pre-kill. Even though the goal is to innovate in a serious way, the most far-reaching ideas are the first ones removed from the equation; either because management is unable to relate or considers the idea be too far-fetched. The responsible innovators are then left wondering: “Wasn’t the intention supposed to be serious innovation?”
  9. Reluctance to involve external partners: fear of opening doors to competitive intelligence, reluctance to share potential benefits, concern to dilute internal innovation by letting external partners came into the space…
  10. Line management resistance and poor management of the innovation process: lack of clear overarching innovation framework in place that links innovation to strategic alignment, which communicates innovations value and its value position, failure to put in place all the critical factors of an innovation process to make sure that innovation has the chance to work.

You may recognize the above-mentioned situations. Do not despair; you are not alone. I will provide solutions in my upcoming posts.

What reasons do you see for innovation to fail?  Share your stories.

image credit: motivationalquotesabout.com

Innovation Excellence Cities Tour

Wait! Before you go…

Choose how you want the latest innovation content delivered to you:


Stephan Vincent is Director of Cultural Transformation at Collidea, a strategic innovation firm in Carmel, IN. He is also Founder and President of s.p.IN and Collide Summit Indiana, a first-of-its- kind un-conference unlike anything else. Stephan is a new contributor to IX, sharing insights from his own blog.

No comments

  1. Great post. Agree with these barriers. Also believe another major barrier is not aligning and integrating company strategies for innovation, customer engagement and process optimization. More in my blog post “Business leadership has three critical priorities.” http://ow.ly/w8Iqm

Leave a Reply