Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Why 'innovation' fails

Yelena Slesarenko at Stavanger Games 2007.Image via Wikipedia
There's a reason many a CEO views an offer to 'innovate' with a mixture of fear and disdain: Somewhere approaching 9 out of 10 business innovations fail.
There are lots of reasons:

(To summarise and plagiarise the Harvard Business Review (Jan/Feb 10) and Robert H Miles' Accelerating Corporate Transformation...)
  • Managers come over all conservative - what starts as a game changer ends up as a watered-down version of what it could/should have been.
  • No one gets given the space to change. Your team continue to be set the same old targets and have to deliver against the same responsibilities - yet are expected to layer on the new stuff alongside that very busy day job. They default to what they regard as the 'must do' rather than the 'important to do'. Their job descriptions don't get changed.
  • Then there's 'Initiative Gridlock' which loosely translates as 'what we're doing ain't good enough, but we'll keep on plugging away until we think of something better... only we never get time to think of anything better.' There's a great Einstein quote that the boardroom should keep in mind: "The definition of madness is repeating the same experiment and expecting different results."
  • It's easier to repeat than to change.
  • Innovation often fails in the implementation phase - because you didn't involve the people who you need on board to make it happen, in the process of shaping what it is that needs to happen.
  • That leads to its own set of issues - if the guys doing the implementation don't have the change in their soul their focus is going to be reduced and their efforts and the outcome blunted.
So lots of stumbling blocks to overcome. No wonder an innovation has just one chance in 10 of success.
But I do think there are ways of improving your chances AND overcoming those obstacles at the same time.
The first is not to equate innovation with incremental improvement. I always think of the image of the guy doing the Fosbury Flop for the first time. Real innovation is not a little bit better. It is not a repeat of the previous experiment, but bigger.

It is revolutionary.
I think the definition of Innovation from wikipedia re Signal Processing is helpful.

"the innovation is the difference between the observed value of a variable at time t and the optimal forecast of that value based on information available prior to time t.
In other words: "How much better could this thing be?"
How much better depends on where you look from. If you look at the issue from the perspective of the same old supply chains you have always analysed, and delivering with same set of resources you've always had to play with, you are almost certain to identify how incrementally better YOU can make it. Small headroom.

But if you look at every aspect of that supply chain and imagine you have the global resource of all those who care about solving the same problem you face, then you can start to spot the revolutionary change you and the crowd can deliver TOGETHER. Big headroom.

You can either seek to innovate solutions using the resources you have at your disposal within the org, or you can seek to innovate solutions using all those resources PLUS the world outside.
I wonder how many of those failed 9/10 innovations tried to do it all on their own?

The truly innovative organisation sees itself as an connecting, enabling platform.

You can add. We can transform.

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The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?