Monday, February 26, 2007

Innovation Obstacles

I've just had a chance to sit down and read the results of the latest survey from InnovationLabs entitled Permanent Innovation. What jumped out at me were the obstacles that people say keep them from innovating effectively.

The survey provided a range of obstacles and each respondent was encouraged to "select all that apply". The only obstacles that reached 50% were: lack of time for innovation and resistance to change. Let's contemplate that for a moment. Lack of time for innovation suggests that innovation is an add-on or a "nice to have" for the business, not something that people should place as their first priority. Resistance to change also speaks to the same problem. There's no clear direction that innovation MUST happen. It may happen, but not if it requires addition time or resources, or forces people to change.

Sadly, this is consistent with our experiences as well. We find a lot of thinking that suggests that innovation is a part-time effort, which should be done if it does not conflict with anything else or pull resources away from "real work". If your firm does not expect to invest real time and effort into innovation, and expects it to be a sideline or part-time engagement, then set the expectations early that little will get done.

Another thing that struck me about the answers were that while there were 15 possible answers, 14 received 20% response rate. This means that there are many different stumbling blocks possible for innovation, and the people responding to this survey have each encountered several. As a side note, I'd quibble a little with some of the selections, to question whether or not "fear of failure", "boundaries between departments" and "slow to react" aren't simply symptoms of a lack of cultural acceptance. When you boil down all the responses, you'll see that the stumbling blocks are:

  • Lack of metrics
  • Poor organizational structure
  • Misaligned compensation/motivation
  • Cultural issues
  • Lack of defined processes and methods
  • Lack of training
  • Poor alignment to strategy (I'd add this one based on experience)
Once you reconsider that the number one rationale was "lack of time for innovation", then the others obstacles make sense. If you can't find the time to innovate, then you certainly will struggle to find the time to define the processes and metrics necessary, or define and improve compensation and corporate culture.

No other important business function or process works this way. In most business processes and business functions we are process-managed, trained and measured to death. The Russians under the old Soviet government used to have a saying "If you pretend to pay me, I'll pretend to work." Innovators need to stop pretending to innovate and demonstrate why innovation deserves to receive the time necessary for success.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 1:52 PM

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