Thursday, April 25, 2013

Innovation Headlines

I'm surprised at how often I'm surprised by my news aggregator.  Reading about innovation is always surprising, for two polar opposite reasons.  First, I'm constantly surprised by how creative and interesting people can be when they are allowed to dream up new ideas.  Second, I'm constantly surprised by how often teams crash and burn when attempting innovation, and we are left reading about the failures.  There's a huge gap between expectation and reality, between plans and optimism at the start and the breadth of outcomes at the end.  Of course, screaming headlines gain more readership - in TV news, if it bleeds, it leads.  Where innovation is concerned, what fails goes first.

Here are some innovation headlines are you are unlikely to see:

Brainstorming generates hundreds of useful ideas for Company X

No, we typically read about the failure of brainstorming or other idea generation tools.  Strange that so often the articles we read about idea generation don't seem to quote IDEO or Doblin or even humble OVO Innovation.  We've been very successful with brainstorming and idea generation.  But where innovation is concerned, failure is trumpeted and success diminished in the media.

Company blames its culture for its failure to innovate

When companies fail to innovate, they tend to round up the usual suspects.  Innovation is too hard, or the tools weren't quite right.  They approach innovation like Goldilocks and end up sounding a bit like Goldilocks in the end.  What's almost universally true is that the biggest barrier to innovation in any organization, in any geographic region, in any industry, is internal corporate culture.  Want more innovation?  Change the culture to emphasize innovation.

Innovation team given all funds, time necessary to innovate

Now here's a case where the Goldilocks syndrome is accurate.  Most innovation teams never get the resources, time or funding they need in order to succeed.  The first time I hear about an innovation team getting the resources, time and funding they actually need to do the work they've been asked to do will be the first time.  Why claim that innovation is important if you won't staff it or fund it appropriately?

Company cannibalizes own products to disrupt market

Small companies play offense, because they want to gain market share.  Large companies play defense to defend market position and share.   In every industry, new entrants are trying to devise ways to disrupt the market and take share, while large firms tinker at the edges or talk about disrupting another market.   We know that disruption will occur in every market - why not disrupt yourself, rather than react to another entrant or competitor?  The disruptor has the advantage of knowing when and how the disruption will occur.

Innovation headlines and their impact

Why is so much of the news about innovation negative?  Why do so many people declare the "end" of innovation, the "failure" of brainstorming?  Why does the media seem to suggest that innovation is so difficult that only special firms like Apple, 3M and P&G can do it?  Innovation does require determination and commitment.  It does require working to discover new needs and creating change in a safe, comfortable environment.  But those facts don't mean that innovation is difficult.

It's the commitment that is difficult - committing to change, risk and uncertainty for future growth rather than sticking to the knitting and cranking out consistent short term profits.   When we read about how difficult innovation is, or how unreliable the tools are, we reassure ourselves of our decisions to simply tinker around the edges rather than commit to the work necessary to transform an organization into a committed innovator.  This safe, comfortable nest you've built for yourself is built on false assumptions.  The time is coming quickly when being a good innovator will be the "safe" option, when the pace of change, heightened level of competition and increased consumer demand will require that a firm sustain innovation merely to be considered a viable player.

Stop reading the headlines and go ask an expert - is innovation really that difficult?  Are the tools really that unpredictable?  Can my organization get a lot better, in a short period of time?  Is the investment worth the risk?  You can contact me to have that discussion, or any experienced innovator can answer this for you.  Don't believe the negative news.  Start doing what you know you need to do, and don't let headlines distract or dissuade you from making your organization far more effective as an innovator.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 6:32 AM


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