How to Identify and Nullify Innovation Killers

Woman in a conference appearing bored.

Talking about doing can kill innovation.

Innovation strategy can be a powerful thing, but any businessperson can tell you that no strategy, however carefully formed, survives contact with the day-to-day reality of running a business. Company culture and approach can foster innovation or kill it, and to prevent innovations from dying in committee, ask yourself these questions.

How Do You Handle Failure?

Everybody, to some degree, is worried about failing. That’s not entirely wrongheaded, but with innovation, failure needs to be put into its proper context so this fear vanishes. If an idea is presented, refined, implemented, and fails, it’s not the ideal scenario perhaps. But your company has collected important data about what works and can step back and consider why that is. Remember, failure is not the end. Even the biggest companies in the world have failed, sometimes on a staggering scale; think Netflix’s quickly forgotten attempt to spin off its DVD rental business as “Quikster.”

Have You Dedicated Enough Resources?

Innovation’s greatest killer is bottlenecks. Committees that don’t have enough time to meet, a meeting on a topic that’s held once and then dropped, or a lone employee trying to spend an hour a day filtering through hundreds of suggestions are often the murder scenes of great ideas. Ensure that any innovation strategy has the resources and tools to succeed, and create accountability structures to keep things going.

Man in a shirt and tie sitting on top of a large stack of papers.

Innovation isn’t about forms.

Is Innovation Everyone’s Job?

Innovation is often seen as the job of engineers, programmers, and other people who take math and science and apply them to the real world. It’s easy to forget, however, that this creates a limited mindset for innovation within a company.

Much of innovation is not inventing an entirely new concept, but rather combining multiple approaches, technologies, and ideas to create something new. Nintendo has this enshrined as a company principle, which it calls Lateral Thinking With Withered Technology. Instead of trying to invent something new out of whole cloth, Nintendo asks employees across the company to take well-proven, cheap technology and combine it in new ways. As a result, Nintendo has survived in the gaming industry where titans like IBM and Phillips have failed.

Does Innovation Have A Clear Path?

One of the toughest problems in any company is limiting administrative friction. Say for example an employee has an idea. What path does that idea take? Can the employee submit it directly to your innovation team, or do they have to submit it to their supervisor, who then needs to consider the idea before forwarding it to the innovation team? Or worse, forward it to their supervisor? Innovation thrives on having a clear path from idea to a group that will refine and implement that idea. Sometimes you’ll need to trim away a little bureaucratic undergrowth to make that happen.

Is Innovation Constant?

Some people do their best work under pressure, and this is as true of innovation as it is of anything else. However, it’s unlikely you’ll always be needing to innovate or die, especially as you get better at refining ideas and come across some new ones.

This doesn’t mean you should stop working on ideas, however. In part, this is because you’ll never know when the pressure will ratchet back up. You should also innovate to keep your company fresh, thinking about the future, considering new approaches and features, and above all making what you sell better for your customers. To learn how you can make innovation part of your everyday work culture, contact us.

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