Friday, February 17, 2012

Why do we want innovations yet fear innovation?

I was thinking about writing a blog post about corporate culture and its resistance to innovation.  I even had this snappy analogy ready about how corporate culture is like a wet blanket thrown on the fire of innovation.  Other ideas I wanted to explore included how corporations "but" ideas to death.  But it won't work, but we don't have the people, but it will distract from our existing products.  And so forth.

However, the more I thought about writing that post - and don't worry - few seconds were lost in that perusal - the more I was certain that everyone knows that culture and organizational perspectives are for the most part inimical to innovation. But what really stumped me, thinking just a bit more, is the dissonance between the reaction many people have about innovation in their organization, and their wondrous, blithe acceptance of innovation from other firms or individuals.  It's almost as if most of us have bifurcated minds - absolutely rejecting the possibility of innovation WITHIN our organizations while simultaneously DEMANDING innovation from other firms.

A case in point to illuminate the discussion.  Many of our clients, when confronted with new ideas that may actually benefit the firm by attracting new customers, worry about their ability to produce the idea, market the idea, fund the idea.  They worry about how management will perceive the idea, whether or not the organization will fund the idea.  They worry about disrupting existing products or cannibalizing their own markets.  Every possible exception is made to demonstrate why it will be so difficult to innovate.

Yet these same individuals whip out iPhones at the sound of the xylophone that is now the ubiquitous ring tone.  They jot notes on yellow sticky pads that have become a requirement of modern business work.  They search for specific terms in a web browser and search engine.  They wear the latest in water-proof, wind-proof, sweat-proof, dirt resistant shells.  They expect, no DEMAND, innovation in the products and services they buy, and are disappointed when the brands they know and trust fail to deliver ever more innovation.

What causes the dichotomy?  Why are so many people unable to imagine their own firms creating interesting, innovative new products and services?  Why are so many firms resistant to innovation, when there is clearly so much expectation and demand for new products and services?  Why do the same people who "yes, but" an idea to death in their own organization immediately rush out and acquire new products and services?  Clearly these innovations came from somewhere - an imaginary land of innovative firms where "everyone" is innovative.

These consumers - who are really all of us - want new products and are evidence of the opportunities that interesting new products and services create.  Yet somehow when we return to our desks, doubt and uncertainty creep in.  Only certain firms can innovate.  There's not really a market for this.  Stick to your knitting and let others develop the new markets.  We become economists, who thankfully only have two hands, who say "on the one hand, there might be a market for this idea, but on the other hand...". 

My only conclusion is that the threshold to many corporate office buildings must hold powerful magic that creates temporary amnesia and replaces demand with fear.  Every person who "yes buts" an idea in a conference room while texting on an iPhone or Android should take a long look in the mirror.  We have met the enemy of innovation and he is us.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:37 AM


Blogger Ron Cohen said...

Jeffrey - I agree with your sentiments. However, I think the comparison between internal innovation and consumer adoption of new products is perhaps not the core issue. One can purchase a new consumer product with little risk. Consumers often read reviews prior to purchase, products, can be returned, and the worst case is complete waste of the entire purchase price. That is not a life-changing event. However, choosing wrong course in business or innovation can change the course of an entire company and affect the lives of people that wish to remain employed there. Therefore I think it natural that much more careful thought (and angst) goes into product innovation decisions than into a consumer's decision of whether or not to purchase such a product.

That said, I suspect there may be other effects in play. Once a group has a made a decision to proceed on a certain path, adopting new ideas becomes difficult. New ideas may be disruptive, may contradict the status quo, and can imply that people were previously wrong about their original path. This is a common human behavior. It is also observed in lemmings. Teams with the ability to assess their own ideas objectively, and not become stuck in group-think ('whatever we are doing is right") can avoid this.

Another concept that seems to sometimes the previous one, is that groups often seem to trust new ideas from those perceived as external experts more than from members of their own team. An change proposed with from within a company might be quashed while the same idea from an external (and highly-paid) consultant might be taken quite seriously. Perhaps it is simply the perception of the consultant's authority, due to their perceived expert status, and the fact that the company is paying so much.

12:21 PM  
Blogger Pavaman said...

Problems can be coming from team culture in conference room. Everyone of us want ME to succeed rather than my peer, this sometimes encourages to say "but" on ideas of others. Its a management responsibility to create a healthy culture where each employees encourages other to work hard and succeed.

10:39 AM  

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