- Institutional inertia, narrow perception of innovation or what it needs to flourish, and short-term thinking can all be barricades of innovation.
- Break through these barriers by uncovering the reasons behind them and offering a clear and detailed innovation strategy.
- An effective innovation management platform can address organizational obstacles.
The road to innovation is a bumpy one, but smoothing it over is easier than you might think. Here are ten common barricades to innovation you may encounter while building your innovation strategy, and the solutions we’ve found to overcome them.
“This Is the Way We’ve Always Done It.”
By far the most common barricade to innovation is institutional inertia. When something works, there may be no obvious benefit to change—so why fix what isn’t broken?
For this challenge, the key question to ask is why this is the way it’s always been done. Who decided that? What led to that decision? Have those factors changed at all? If so, have they made the approach more or less effective?
There may be excellent answers to these questions, which can help inform your innovation strategy going forward. If it becomes clear something needs to be fixed, that can help inspire change.
“We Don’t Have the Resources.”
There are practical considerations to any innovation strategy—and there can easily be a mismatch between the perception of what it’ll cost, and the reality. In the absence of any other examples, “innovation” is often assumed to encompass expensive research and development with long timelines for goal completion.
As part of your innovation strategy, develop a clear definition of what innovation looks like in your organization. How will you collect ideas? What are your goals for your innovation strategy? What parts of the company will you need to tap into so you can reach those goals? Having a concrete approach can settle fears and show that you do have the resources.
“The Only Good Innovation Is a World-Changing One.”
One of the biggest challenges to innovation is excessive ambition. Everyone wants to build the next iPhone—but no disruptive innovation happens without incremental innovation. The iPhone wouldn’t have been possible without decades of incremental improvements that drove down the size of the device while increasing the power of individual components.
Building for incremental innovation sets the stage for disruptive innovation. Build your innovation strategy to accommodate both and start with the latter. Set big goals that can be broken down into smaller, easier-to-reach steps that show forward motion and success while ideally making life better for coworkers and clients.
“Go Big or Go Home.”
The temptation to swing for the fences on the first try is a reasonable one. Exciting opportunities can blind even the most pragmatic people to the risks of what happens if you miss. Conversely, unveiling a modest plan can be disappointing for somebody expecting fireworks.
The key is to set appropriate expectations. Make long-term and short-term goals clear and understand what the benefits will be.
“Only Certain People Can Be Innovative.”
Innovation is found among the people most familiar with a process or product, regardless of their training. Vancouver Coastal Health tapped into not a cluster of engineers or consultants, but its own workforce to determine how to reduce waste while safeguarding patient safety with their Operating Room Sustainability Challenge, for example.
Diversity in perspectives and approaches yields the best results in innovation. That’s why so many innovation programs tap into entire workforces.
“Innovation Only Happens Outside Our Structure.”
There are many forms of innovation that incorporate resources outside organizations, from crowdsourcing to hiring consultants. They’re all viable, yet dependency on them or letting others do the innovating and buying their products instead shouldn’t be the only approach.
Break down this barrier by digging into why and how consultants or outside innovation sources got started in the first place. Do the reasons still make sense? Can an innovation strategy incorporate them? Does it work for everyone?
“Innovators Are Lone Geniuses.”
Many stories of innovation seem to start with somebody in a garage, but the truth is very different. Even Amazon sought outside help from Jeff Bezos’ parents.
Illustrate how and why innovation is collaborative and how teams can help refine ideas into something better. NASA, for example, found a solution to a problem that had been developed internally and was ready to go.
“Failure Is Not an Option.”
Great innovators fail constantly. Name a company famed for innovation and you’ll find a string of failed products—from the Apple Newton to Colgate Lasagna. Even successful products had, in some cases, years of prototypes and tests behind the scenes before a finished product—like the forty tries it took to create WD-40.
Learning from those failures is what leads to a successful product. These are lessons innovators of all stripes often need. Sometimes an idea doesn’t reach its intended goal but is successful in a whole separate way. Sildenafil citrate was originally intended to treat high blood pressure. While it is used for that, it’s far better known (and more profitable) as Viagra.
“We’re Successful Now. Why Rock the Boat?”
The history of business is littered with companies that took this attitude and paid the price. If that isn’t enough to shake people out of their complacency, another question to ask is how long that success will hold and whether it will be enough in the long term.
This is also a good place to discuss incremental innovation as part of an innovation strategy. Making a company more efficient, productive, and effective is innovation as well, and small changes that make things better don’t rock the boat.
“Somebody Else Already Thought of It.”
For every seemingly out-of-the-blue innovation, there’s somebody who had the idea years before, even decades before. Star Trek, for example, depicted a world surprisingly similar to our own in the 1960s in some respects, with tiny wireless personal communication devices, voice-controlled computers, and even Bluetooth headsets.
The challenge isn’t in the conception but in the execution. Even when something is successfully executed, there’s constant room for improvement.