Why is consistent innovation so difficult?
If a core strength or capability of most businesses is sustaining and maintaining well defined processes, then you'd think that creating and sustaining an innovation process should be a no-brainer. Doing something once is difficult, and doing something periodically is haphazard. This is the real challenge of innovation - most firms don't do it frequently enough or use consistent enough models to create a well honed innovation process. Those that innovate several times and then find their attention drawn elsewhere stop just short of the tipping point that leads to a consistent, sustainable innovation process.
Isn't it interesting that most businesses hold well defined processes in high esteem? They seek consistency, lack of variability and well-established workflow to cut down on costs, overhead and complexity. Yet when they consider innovation, it is rarely as a consistent effort or process, but in reaction to a life threatening event, and considered at best a one-time effort, not worthy of process development and definition. Just by declaring the development of a process too time consuming and difficult, the management team declares that innovation isn't as valuable as other processes. If innovation were as important as other business functions, then clearly it would have a well defined process just like all the others, especially given the fact that we compensate and reward people to work within the stated processes.
In my experience, when it comes to doing new things, many businesses find it easy to start new initiatives but hard to replicate them. In contrast, once some new product, service or offering finds its way into the machinery of existing processes, they are hard to ever terminate. So we build barriers and make it difficult to create new things, and build barriers to terminating products and services that have lived well beyond their usefulness.
Note that it isn't the case that firms have a difficult time creating consistent, sustainable processes and products. Quite the opposite. Most firms have a significant number of sustained products and processes that people understand, support and enable. The interesting challenge is where innovation is concerned. If we can state that innovation can be developed and sustained like any other business process, and clearly firms can sustain other processes, then what's the barrier to sustained innovation?
I think it has to do with strategic commitment. Clearly most organizations have plenty of ideas and plenty of proactive and reactive opportunities. They also sustain processes that are important to the operation and/or revenue of the business. So innovation either isn't considered pertinent, doesn't appear to drive revenue or improve effectiveness, or is simply lost in the moment to moment decision making of corporate executives.
Which is interesting, because every successful innovator seems to drive more revenue, and drive more differentiation than other firms in their industry. So I'm left with the fact that executives are far too often hot and cold and hot again about innovation, and that means a consistent innovation process, which requires commitment and exercise over time, can't be sustained.