Why? The delta between innovation objectives and abilities.


A recent survey by the Palladium Group found that 93% of respondents believed that excellence in innovation would be critical to their success in the coming years. However, just 36% of the almost 1400 companies surveyed believed that they were good at innovating. In fact, most felt that they were poor at all forms of innovating – such as product/service and process innovation as well as business model innovation.

Innovation, a bridge too far?

A bridge too far? Can innovation be achieved in risk-averse cultures?
© Mikhail Shifrin | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Why is there such a massive gap between the importance of innovation and perceived abilities? Innovation means change, and change is hard.

What must organizations do to close this gap, and how can organizations manage innovation better?

The ability to execute on innovation in any form – whether the design of new products, services, processes or business models – is proportional to the ability of the collective team or organization to think and act in new ways.  Conceptualizing new models and designs is difficult, requiring creativity and commitment to see beyond current and historic influences. Execution on those designs, particularly in the context of organizational change, is infinitely harder.  Why? Human inertia; the same reason new years resolutions go unrealized.

Change is also culturally hard.  Who defines change? People.  Who executes change? People.  What defines your culture? Your people do, in combination with the context of your market.  Business cultures are uniquely complex and inherently resistant to change.  As Palladium’s 2014 survey states clearly, the inability to overcome internal resistance to change is a genuine problem. It is a human problem.

Palladium’s 2014 survey concludes, “Leadership for strategy execution is not confined to the top echelons of the enterprise but must be inculcated at every level.” Success will depend on instilling in everyone the need for change and committing to it at every level. This begins with “why.” Why is it important? Why do I care, why should I act differently? Capture the heart and the mind will follow; or at least begin to follow.

Active communication of why, consistently, transparently, and with conviction is the critical beginning which must be sustainable throughout the journey.   It must be open and ongoing, supporting “why” with what, how, where, when, and who, all of which must be clear and concise, measurable and connected like a song returning to the refrain of “why.”

Even with commitment from the heart – the intrinsic belief across the corporate culture of the need for innovation – and the all-important compass pointing to that destination, there are significant obstacles.  The journey begins with the roadmap of what must be done to execute on innovation.  However, there will also be a set of decisions that must be made collectively and individually that often prove more difficult.  It is the decision of what not to do, and the need to over-ride autopilot.

Autopilot is your worst enemy, making it hard to see things differently and think in new ways; autopilot is anti-innovation.  It is not as conscious and overt as “this is the way we’ve always done it,” rather it is the subconscious sibling, perhaps more insidious because it is silent and hidden. Autopilot thrives on past training, learned behaviors and legacy circumstance.  Innovation requires businesses to break that mold and make yesterday’s environment unrecognizable, so the focus on new objectives and patterns is clear and untainted by old habits.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  -Albert Einstein.
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This article was originally written for the Palladium Group, appearing on their website in April, 2015.

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