This is the second part of the article on Top 10 innovation inhibitors. To read Part 1, click here.
6. Penalised innovation
Companies using a rigid approach and not accepting/tolerating failures. Employees focus on safer options, stifling creativity.
This is especially tricky to solve with technology, as the issue inherently relates to management’s risk appetite and visionary thinking. The challenge is to comply with management’s understandable drive to safeguard the organisation from losses and minimise risks, while on the other end enable unstifled innovation.
- Minimise risk of failure by using techniques and technologies such as those offered above, as mitigating actions aimed at preventing short-sighted innovation.
- In addition, one can use testing software or sandbox environments for development. This will allow to minimise potential negative effects and losses. It will also enable untethered testing of innovative thinking. Potential directions are:
- Profitability testing
- Stress testing
- User acceptance testing
- Customer satisfaction testing
- Agile & Minimum Viable Product (MVP) ideation and prototyping–to identify potential shortfalls as quickly as possible, the organisation can adopt an agile approach to creating through innovation. Instead of focusing on a full solution, focus ideation on an MVP and put it to the test as rapidly as possible. If the testing yields satisfactory results, then expand ideation to include further improvements. An inspiring read is a book called Lean startup by Eric Ries, available as an audiobook and in paperback form.
As with buy-in assurance ideas for short-sighted innovation, the key to ensuring the tactics suggested above are successful, lies in deep integration of these technologies within processes supporting innovation. Management can use both push and pull motivation mechanisms here:
- Mandate technology as part of the innovation and ideation processes and projects.
- Reward fast paced projects and agile teams who generate progress updates with new insight and show learning and improvements continuously.
7. Innovation communism
Wikipedia describes Communism as a philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement. It is structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production, and according to which private property should not exist.
Communism in innovation means that no matter who is to be thanked for a successful idea, crediting the contributor is absent completely or distributed across the entire organisation equally.
Where innovation communism is present within an organisation, the drive for individuals to contribute to problem solving can fizzle out. It can become significantly demotivating as it shows that no matter how much one tries, that will go unnoticed and unreported. They will not receive any reward, even if as public recognition (or within the organisation).
Innovation communism stifles innovation by killing motivation.
It is unfortunate innovation communism can often happen without intention. It is enough for someone in the management to forget to name and compliment contributors.
If the organisation is using a task management software and has an internal web portal, a rather easy win on this front would be to automate posting. Automatically post news from the task management software to web portal so that whenever a project milestone is approved as completed. Involved individuals are automatically publicly credited for contribution and all employees can comment and send digital kudos/likes/claps to stakeholders. This will also increase transparency of ongoing projects across the organisation.
To maximise the effects of the mitigating action, a summary email can be sent weekly to the organisation with all posted achievements from the previous week, improving organisation-wide awareness of activities, improving employees’ feeling of inclusion, and improving bonding between employees. What we want to achieve with this is get as many people as possible to ‘Like’ or comment on the respective post.
8. Frustrated innovation
For previous innovation inhibitors, I suggested multiple software-based solutions, enhancements to internal processes, the inclusion of mandatory controls and steps. The line is thin between constructively enhancing the innovation processes to improve the rate of success and creating an overbearing setup in which innovation becomes synonymous with frustration.
The organisation can easily pass the tipping point between risk-managing the innovation process and frustrating it. As the number of processes and tools intended to risk-manage projects increases, the likelihood of their harmonised use drops. Oftentimes, third-party software solutions used are not seamlessly connected or fully compatible. In addition, the processes and procedures become too convoluted. The effect is furthermore compounded when we take into consideration the challenges associated with workplace stress, as explained in part 1 of this article on Starved innovation and in my previous article on workplace stressors.
For this innovation inhibitor, mitigating actions are too organisation-sensitive and deeply connected to the previously mentioned innovation inhibitors. A technical solution directly applicable to this specific inhibitor should only be supplementary to previously mentioned solutions.
The goal is to ensure innovation processes in the organisation are not frustrated to a point employee start avoid contributing with ideas from the fear of the process itself.
To understand process bottlenecks, points of breakdown and frustration, process monitoring, and process mining tools can be used to detect bottlenecks, points of breakdown and frustration, as well as identify any potential shortcuts taken.
- If a project management system is used within the organisation, active monitoring of transition times from one stage to the other can be monitored, and even made publicly visible within the organisation, allowing team members to comment on every stage, suggesting improvements and providing feedback on why and which elements were challenging.
- Process feedback should be requested multiple times during each project, especially after a milestone has been achieved.
- Both positive and negative feedback received should be made visible to the entire organisation (via an internally accessible web page). If improvement points are identified, these should be linked to feedback. Feedback providers should be made aware of how their feedback has contributed the betterment of the process.
9. Lazy innovation
The term lazy innovation is often linked to how laziness can be an accelerator to innovation, forcing people to think of creative ways to do something with less strain. Here though, I am looking at it from a different perspective of how lazy innovators can stifle innovation. When they have not been incentivised enough to bring innovative solutions to problems to the table, the business will be left suffering due to not keeping up with market trends or being able to stay ahead of the curve.
If this theme sounds familiar, this is so because this inhibitor is tied to the beginning of part one of this article and the examples of Nokia and Blackberry. It also ties well with previously written-about innovation inhibitors. It could be argued this might not need to be a separately noted inhibitor. In my experience, organisations can be well configured to tackle all previously mentioned inhibitors, yet still have an employee culture too lazy to innovate.
- Where the organisation uses project management or innovation management tools, management can monitor impact to organisation’s organic growth compared to market trends and competitors.
- Depending on the organisation, management will probably also monitor revenue growth and product stickiness factors (mechanisms to secure customer loyalty) among a plethora of others.
It is crucial to separate the effects of normal business operations and the effects and contribution of innovative actions. This will drive accountability within the organisation.
Management can further propel innovation by budgeting innovation spend within the annual financial plan.
At the core of these suggested actions is data analytics. Data analytics, however, will only be as efficient as the quality of data itself. And here is where we again see all the activities mentioned in this article come together: any technologies used to unlock innovation should interface with a data analytics platform, enabling management to monitor the effects of each measure, and to monitor the overall effectiveness of innovation initiatives and their contribution to organisation’s performance.
10. Misguided innovation
If the organisation has ticked all the boxes regarding actions and mechanisms described in previous sections to ensure for a truly innovative environment, there is still room for the largest gap of all. Not seeing the forest from the tree.
We can have an organisation brimming with innovative people and projects across its entire operations, yet all the projects are missing the point in innovating on what truly matters and ensures overarching significant long-term effects which will pave the way to the future state of the organisation.
Here is an example to bring this to light: A telecoms company diligently improving and creating new tariff plans and continuously improving on the service and customer experience, all the while focusing all its innovation efforts within the realm of its core services – cabled and cellular connectivity. In the telecoms industry, operators are always vigilant of what the competition does. The competition being other operators on the market.
- In meantime, we have seen SMS messages completely fall out of favour to online instant messaging services.
- MMS and cellular video calls never even making it big time while app-based multimedia messaging and video calls dominating the market.
- Non-operators offering superior connectivity solutions which leverage multiple telecom operator’s networks, Wi-Fi and other connectivity methods: Google Fi.
- The latest Apple’s AirTag is an exemplary IoT device which completely circumvents the need for IoT to work via the telecom operator’s network. By communicating within a network of all Apple devices in its vicinity, no matter if owned by the same person or anyone else, it can communicate its location with exceptional precision, anywhere in the world via a close by connected apple device. A private global Apple network. If we only look at this example, we can see how direct device-to-device connectivity might develop in the future, with further development of the technology.
So, while the organisation is focusing its creativity and innovation on strengthening and improving its core services, the threats are coming from seemingly irrelevant directions. A false sense of safety due to all the innovation taking place, shielding the looming threats with significant negative long-term effects.
And misguided innovation can have another ominous angle: A scenario where a manager is intent on preventing automation of a manual process for managing purchase orders by focusing team’s attention on other areas.
In just a few examples, I hope I managed to portray how deeply effective misguided innovation can be. Whether intentional or not, the history has proven it to be one of the great challenges of any organisation. It is not only about keeping an open mind when it comes to innovation, but also about keeping a broad sight of the reasons behind it, and effects of it.
In the era of information in which we live in, staying in the know is the key to success. Staying informed in the business world is neither a privilege nor a nice-to-be task. It is a prerequisite to sustainability and survival.
- Outward-looking: Depending on the industry, many tools are available on the market, which will allow harvesting of information relevant to an organisation. AI has gone a long way to understand patterns in seemingly unrelated events.
- Inward-looking: Innovation can be steered in directions of key importance by leveraging data analytics to understand key processes, components and products/solutions and drive innovation in that space.
Executive management is key to securing buy-in of these suggested actions. Primarily so, as in the example of outward looking mitigating actions, they will be the primary users of the tooling so that they can navigate the organisation responsibly.
With inward-looking innovation for the sake of optimising internal processes, a potential solution would be to mandate that project approval process includes a justification exercise which would require sense-checking of whether this specific project is something teams should work on at the moment. This is not to be confused with a business case, as it can very well happen that a proposed project has a good business case, but the case does not always analyse whether another project should be better to invest in, or what that other project should be.
There are so many ways to stifle innovation, but we have also heard of ways to use technology to mitigate these inhibitors. As mentioned at the beginning, these are only helping mechanisms to make lives of senior management easier in unlocking innovation potential in their organisation. Ultimately, it is exactly on senior management to drive the employee culture towards an innovative mindset – an ongoing effort which is needed by the management and something which it cannot do as a one-off.
Unlocking innovation is about creating the right environment, providing enablers which will motivate the employee culture towards creativity and ensuring this remains so continuously.
One of the last things we will automate effectively is creativity. That makes us human. And that is at the root of innovation. So, while technology can unlock and steer this potential, ultimately, it will come down to people motivating people and people inspiring people -to do greater things.
- Innovation: The History of a Buzzword – The Atlantic
- What is Innovation? Introduction and Definition for Practitioners (innolytics-innovation.com)
- Top 10 Drivers of Innovation – New & Improved (newandimproved.com)
- Ten Ways to Inhibit Innovation (hbr.org)
- Common Ways Innovation is Inhibited | Incremental Innovation
- How automation can lead to innovation | Smartsheet
- Turning Automation into Innovation: Six Factors for Success • (workflowotg.com)