We all know the story:

The board of directors has said,
” We must be more innovative!
And after a lengthy process and all due consideration the company has launched an industry leading “Innovation Programme”

But after 6 months: The board is unhappy. The CEO is unhappy. And the CFO is especially unhappy.

Your innovation program isn’t working.

Let’s look at why the exec team isn’t happy – and what you can do about it.

  1. They didn’t really want innovation – they wanted something else but they called it innovation. More likely the team wanted something less risky – like process improvement or just some nice innovation theatre (ideation).
  2. You are trying to innovate without talking to your customers. Having an employee suggestion box will generate ideas for in-house process improvement – but true innovation comes from speaking to your customers.
  3. You can not move past your legal and regulatory teams. Yes, they keep you out of jail, but the truth is that they also hold you back from moving in new directions. This is another way of saying, “Innovation is risky and companies traditionally avoid risk.”
  4. Your first step was not about a change in culture. Innovation needs support from the very top and throughout the organisation. Everyone needs to understand the “why” behind innovation, the “how” of the innovation process and very importantly to understand that learning sometimes means that things don’t work as planned. It’s that nasty f*** word (fail).
  5. You are stuck between two types of failure. Are you going to fail to innovate – or are you going to fail whilst innovating? It is your choice.

And how does this compare to startup companies – the ones the board are worried about turning up and completely disrupting their business?

Startups Look at Innovation Differently

  1. Startups “get” innovation. They understand that the true value is in identifying consumer needs and solving them.
  2. Good startups grow their business using a process of build-test-iterate – and test means to test by engaging with consumers directly and frequently
  3. Startups don’t have legal and regulatory teams – They still have to colour within the lines, but they don’t have the same risk aversion as you do.
  4. Startup teams have a culture that is disruptive by definition. Everyone understands that true learning happens both from success and failure. Failure is not a dirty word.
  5. Startups don’t have an established business that is under threat which they must protect at all cost. For Startups there is only 1 true failure – Failure to try.

So what can you do?

Here’s a hint:

Fixing Innovation is far more about organisational readiness than it is about any innovation process or technique.

  1.  Get to grips with your real objective. Do you want process improvement? Are you focused on short term ROI? Do you want the PR value of being seen as being innovative? What does innovation success look like? Define team objectives that align with corporate goals.
  2. Start off with a process of “Horizon Scanning”. Engage with outside teams to look at new business models, new opportunities and new solutions that are relevant to your customers. Talk to your customers about who they see as providing innovative new solutions to other adjacent or related problems.
  3. Shift the thinking in legal and regulatory.  Identify key members of your legal and regulatory team and challenge them to shift from, “No. Can’t be done.” to “Let me help you find a way that we could do this.” – Solution focused rather than Risk focused.
  4. Engage your HR department and begin educating the C-Suite / Top Brass on what it really means to innovate. Fear is often based in ignorance. By providing everyone with a better understanding of innovation they will be far more likely to embrace the process – warts and all.
  5. Choose between two failures: Which failure is worse? Failure to innovate the business until it’s too late? Or failure that is part of learning and understanding where opportunities lie?

What are your experiences with innovation? What about when you have successfully worked with and learned from startups? What do you see as your organisations biggest obstacles to successful innovation? Leave them in the comments below.

Troy Norcross

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Article by Troy Norcross