With innovation being one of the hot managerial topics of the past decade, it is very easy for enthusiasm to over-ride the effectiveness of the innovation programme. Forging ahead without giving some very careful thought to how you are going to manage your innovation programme leads to frustration and wasted resources.
In this article we’ll take a very quick look at the five most common mistakes that companies make when trying to implement an innovation programme.
Generating ideas without providing a supporting structure
Probably the most common mistake we see is that companies ask employees to generate ideas without creating the mechanisms to do something with them. If you do so, all you do is create a long list of ideas that never go anywhere and this simply results in a substantial amount of organisation cynicism. Just ask anyone who has been asked for ideas, cared enough about it to propose one or more ideas and then heard nothing back. Ideas just disappear into the ether – almost an innovation black hole that sucks in ideas and enthusiasm. It is essential that, at the very least, companies develop a set of criteria for judging ideas and a mechanism by which they can accept proposals. Furthmore, a communications policy that provides feedback to the proposer is absolutely key.
Looking for solutions without truly understanding the problem
As a consultancy we see this so often. Solutions are requested and pursued without the management team really understanding the root problem. In addition, even if the problem is understood, many companies will seldom critically assess whether they will solve the root problem, resulting in the proverbial “organisational band-aid” of a short-term solution. A deep and thorough analysis is required to identify the actual problem, rather than simply the symptoms, and even a simple technique such as Toyoda’s 5 Whys can really help here. Of course, there is a second element to be considered: it may simply not be financially worthwhile solving the problem. Take the time to calculate the cost: benefit ratio before spending time and cash on developing a solution.
Promotion risk-taking whilst punishing commercial failure
Companies face a paradox in innovation: managers are trained to deliver on strategy, preserve the status quo and ensure stability within the organisation. This is at odds with innovation, which has the potential to disrupt all of these things. In addition, very seldom do ideas that prove to be highly innovative progress without some form of failure. Innovation, almost by definition, pushes the boundaries of what is possible, and some failure has to be expected. Companies rooted in preserving the status quo are often extremely risk-averse, punishing any commercial failure. Innovation is inherently risky and failure (but not incompetence) needs to be supported to a degree – the trick is realising that what first might appear to be a failure might be anything but.
Not providing the tools required for the job
There is a rather crude saying in the Eastern Cape which runs something along the lines of “You can’t run with the big dogs if you pee like a puppy”. In essence, if you want to reap the benefits of innovation, you need to provide the tools required. You cannot expect miracles if you don’t provide the required raw materials and the structure within which to develop ideas.
Not providing the resources required
This is very closely aligned to our previous point. You must provide adequate resources to turn good ideas into reality. By all means, be ruthless in your evaluation of ideas and target investment very carefully. Rather fail quickly and cheaply, than end up with zombie projects that lurch from year to year without even delivering results. Many companies prioritise resources and investment to sustain current operations and products over new ideas. This is quite understandable, at least to a point. The problem is that it doesn’t build for the future. Even the best products will move through a lifecycle (some faster than others). By not ensuring a good pipeline, you are potentially condemning the organisation to a shrinking market share in the future. Allocate resources wisely, but make sure that your most promising projects are resourced appropriately.
Anthony S. Duncan D. Siren P. (2015) The six most common innovation mistakes companies make. Harvard Business Review, June Edition.