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How you can sabotage your own innovation efforts

4 min read


Whether you’re in the fashion, food or financial industry, innovation is imperative. It’s the fresh thinking that keeps your business relevant. It’s creativity packed with a competitive edge. And it’s the superpower on which you can build success. But, like any superhero, innovation has its enemies — and to beat them, you have to know them. Here’s what you are up against:

  • Initiative overload: It’s easy for organizations to bite off more than they can chew — especially if they don’t realize exactly what type of dish innovation is. When attempting innovation for the first time, they simply treat it as another initiative to manage. But innovation is a direct response to the strategy of an organization; if a company has no strategy, it has no basis for saying “no” to anything in the enterprise. Innovation is then easily shoved aside. Instead, innovation should be an ongoing operational focus.
  • Business as usual: Business as usual is all about protecting and maintaining the status quo to minimize change and maximize efficiency. Innovation is precisely the opposite; it is concerned with introducing change into inherently stable systems, and it is an iterative — not linear — process. As such, the two concepts can be mutually exclusive, and business as usual most often wins out, as that is what management is compensated to ensure.
  • Style without substance: It’s easy to fall in love with the idea of innovation, but to truly pack a punch, there has to be more than just sizzle. Companies need to identify what actually has to happen to make these ideas reality in the marketplace. If you want something meaningful, you need to invest time, energy and effort in testing your thinking and making it work for the only people who matter: your customers.

Now that you know your enemies, you can set in motion the ongoing process of striving for innovation. You can fight the villains of innovation by:

  • Starting with strategy: It’s important that an organization makes clear choices about how innovation fits within its strategy. Otherwise, resource constraints can become points of contention, which lead to thinly spread resources and disillusioned employees. Know where you are going. Be clear about your priorities and manage them over time. For example, when Larry Page took over as Google’s CEO, he ruthlessly reprioritized the strategic projects of the company.
  • Building capability: Identify the skills you need to get ideas to people who need them. Recognize where you can expand the ability of the organization to deliver and seek out new subject-matter expertise. Develop it or hire it, and manage it over time. Umpqua Bank, for example, owes part of its success to its ability to develop the capability of its employees over time while also seeking to re-envision what a bank can be. Each set of services it adds requires that its existing staff learn new skills to effectively deliver new services.
  • Planning capacity: Create room to maneuver as an organization. Building capacity for tackling innovation means preparing the organization to take on ever-increasing challenges over time. Look at eBay — this is a company that truly knows how to reach beyond the everyday. Rather than focusing on providing just an online platform for the buying and selling of goods, eBay is expanding its services. For customers wary of selling online, eBay is trying to make the process easier with pilot pick-up and drop-off programs, and it’s expanding the way it engages with customers.

Many organizations fail to recognize that they must make room for innovation. It requires prioritization, funding and adequate resources. It is key to recognize that innovation is not just another project to be managed but an ongoing operation that should fit seamlessly into overall strategy. This realization will empower your business to thwart the enemies of innovation and also build unimagined capabilities.

Andrew (Drew) C. Marshall is the principal of Primed Associates, an innovation consultancy. He is a co-host of a weekly innovation-focused Twitter chat, #innochat; the founder, host, and producer of Ignite Princeton; and a contributor to the Innovation Excellence blog.