The Innovation Conundrum

The Innovation Conundrum

Paul Sloane 27/08/2018 5

If you want to stop your organisation from trying to develop significant new products or services then here are seven solid arguments you can rely on.

1. We are successful. We are growing and making a modest profit. Innovations absorb resources and cost money. Why should we distract ourselves and mess with success?

2. Everyone is very busy. All staff are working hard on urgent tasks sorting out today’s problems. They do not have spare bandwidth to experiment with new ideas.

3. Innovation is risky. Most radical innovations fail so let’s just keep making our current products and services better.

4. We don’t like failure. It would be bad for morale if we launched a new product which flopped and it would be bad for the careers of those who were responsible for failure.

5. We tried it before and it did not work. Last year we spent a lot of time and money on a major new venture which never made a profit and had to be discontinued. It was a painful and costly experience.

6. Customers are not asking for it. We have surveyed our customers and they like our current offerings. They have indicated some incremental improvements which we are working on. No customers have asked for a radical new approach.

7. There is a still a lot of scope to improve our current business model. Let’s just get the existing operation working really well and smooth out all the issues. Then later when everything is going well we can try some experiments.

All of the statements above are probably true to a greater or lesser extent. This is why getting real momentum behind significant innovation is difficult. The leader has to combat these arguments and instil a sense of urgency. He or she must sell the need for innovation. Let’s look at the counter arguments.

1. We are successful and that is something we can be proud of. But current success is no guarantee of success or even survival in the future. Just look at Kodak. If we do not innovate our competitors will find ways to overtake us. We cannot afford to be complacent.

2. Everyone is busy but we have to find time and resources for innovation. Highly innovative companies like Google allocate up to 20% of employees’ time for exploration of new initiatives. We have to free up some key people for innovation projects.  We can do that by setting priorities and eliminating lower value tasks.

3. Innovation is risky but so is standing still. If we want to succeed we have to play in the game and take some risks.

4. We have to change our attitude to failure and see it as a learning opportunity and a step on the road to success. We have to accept a level of failure. All innovative companies have failures – look at the Amazon Fire. That does not stop them from constantly trying new things.

5. Yes we had a failed initiative but what did we learn from it? If we gained some important insights then we can use those to do better next time. We need to improve our gating process so that we can identify problems early and preferably before launch.

6. Customers are notoriously poor at indicating radical innovations which is one reason why Steve Jobs disdained focus groups. Blackberry users loved their Blackberries but eventually they all melted away to Apple or Samsung.

7. There is plenty of scope for improvement in current operations and it is important that we fix the problems and keep making incremental improvements. However, that does not preclude major creative initiatives. We can do both simultaneously. We can improve our current products and at the same time plan to replace them with innovative new designs.

Busyness, success, complacency and risk aversion are major enemies of innovation. It is the task of the leader and the executive team to communicate the need for innovation and the vision of a better and different future for the organisation.

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  • Joe Learynew

    Leaving room for innovation in a plan of action is a great move, and will come in handy when challenges or opportunities present themselves.

  • Peter Mansfield

    Start tracking the return on your investments so you have the information required to make your next strategic move.

  • Sinead Hasson

    It's easy to get caught up in the hype and excitement around technology and services when building an organisation. You must work to stay grounded and take time to talk with current or potential customers about what they truly need.

  • Mark Connell

    Go outside your bubble and talk to your customers. This is critical in your innovation process.

  • Tom Leadbetter

    If the data doesn't look good, pivot quickly and try other alternatives.

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Paul Sloane

Innovation Expert

Paul is a professional keynote conference speaker and expert facilitator on innovation and lateral thinking. He helps companies improve idea generation and creative leadership. His workshops transform innovation leadership skills and generate great ideas for business issues. His recent clients include Airbus, Microsoft, Unilever, Nike, Novartis and Swarovski. He has published 30 books on lateral thinking puzzles, innovation, leadership and problem solving (with over 2 million copies sold). He also acts as link presenter at conferences and facilitator at high level meetings such as a corporate advisory board. He has acted as host or MC at Awards Dinners. Previously, he was CEO of Monactive, VP International of MathSoft and UK MD of Ashton-Tate. He recently launched a series of podcast interviews entitled Insights from Successful People.

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