Why Big Businesses Fail at Innovation

by Jacqueline Zhou

Why big businesses fail at innovation

Browse through the digital pages of any reputable business news outlet these days and you’ll likely find more than one news story about why big businesses fail at innovation. The reasons behind this are vast, ranging from using the wrong metrics to evaluate innovation (you can read about this in The Capitalist’s Dilemma) to having the wrong company culture.

To get an idea of what may be holding your organization back, let’s take a look at the four most common reasons why big businesses fail at innovation:

1. The Wrong Culture

Culture plays a key role in innovation. It is the foundation for creating a healthy ecosystem and coexistence between employee engagement and innovation.

Why do so many big businesses fail at this one important task? Because many take the wrong approach. Far too many big businesses employ one person to be in charge of innovation and leave everyone else—including themselves—unaccountable. In order for engagement and innovation to work together, there has to be an organization-wide culture that supports and encourages ideation, innovation, and execution of ideas.

2. The Wrong Metrics

Business relies heavily on numbers, but far too often businesses focus solely on the immediate impact or efficiency of innovations, rather than waiting to see them through to the end. Impatient organizations often kill plans or ideas far too soon and before seeing them to fruition, which not only is a waste of company resources, but strikes a dangerous blow to a company’s innovative culture. Big businesses need to broaden their scopes so that the numbers fixate not just on immediate impact, but also concentrate on long-term or market-growing innovations.

3. The Wrong Focus

A minimally viable innovation program or an innovation challenge is an effective way to kick off your innovation program, but these programs aren’t sustainable for the long term. Once the ball gets rolling, businesses need to begin looking for ways in which innovation can be integrated in as a core part of your business.

4. The Wrong Alignment

Finally, initiatives may not be aligned with top priorities for one of two reasons:

  1. Innovation isn’t one of the top priorities of the organization.
  2. Innovation is a side of the desk project for small teams.

In either of these broad case scenarios, innovation—while heralded as a promising and productive area for an organization to explore—is pushed to the side and left forgotten for months and months at a time.

Moving Forward

If you step back and really look at why businesses fail to innovation, almost every organization will fall into one (or more) of the above four categories. Big businesses try time and again to drum up that innovative spirit within their organization but often fall short, causing a ripple effect of failure either right at the gate with phase one (the wrong culture) or through to phase four (the wrong alignment). The good news is that failing at any stage of innovation doesn’t need to result in a permanent state of failure. Any organization, regardless of size, can pick itself up and start fresh by the time the clock ticks to 9am the next day. Start with these 5 Key Elements for Running a Successful Innovation Program.

Build a common language of innovation on your team

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