I just read Mitch Ditkoff’s post on The Heart of Innovation website titled “56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail“. This is a collection, compiled over 22 years, of reasons why innovation has failed at different companies. Having led the innovation activity at EDS I can relate to most of these. Innovation is not an easy job (but it’s exciting!).
Of all the 56 reasons listed on the blog entry, number 7 stands out – “No compelling vision or reason to innovate“. When you boil it down, innovation fails from the “get-go” because most enterprises simply do not have a corporate mindset for innovation. The other 55 items on the list ultimately end up being symptoms of the problem, not the root cause.
So what does it take to create the “mindset” for innovation? This is a tough, complex problem, but there are some basics that need be in place before the mindset will become pervasive. All too often companies react to compelling events (such as quickly emerging markets or competitors) or disruptions (like the drastic downturn in the economy) and declare that they need an “innovation agenda” so they can be more reponsive or competitive or efficient, or something. This is absolutely the worst case scenario for creating a mindset for innovaton.
Innovation must be an integrated part of the business flow. It cannot be a standalone “initiative”. It has to be recognized as an essential part of the “idea generation” phase of the product/portfolio life cycle (if you don’t have one, get one now). It must be disciplined and it must be governed. “Whoa you say… won’t that stifle innovation?” Absolutely not. You have to separate creative thinking and idea generation from the process of applying innovation to enterprise problems or opportunities. If you read my post concerning on bringing order to social networking you will understand what I mean.
Creating the innovation mindset begins with listening to your customers (whether they be revenue generating or internal business units). You must be disciplined about listening to your customers and organizing the information they are providing. If you aren’t going to do this on a regular basis with a well designed process, then don’t attempt to create an innovation agenda. Innovation for the sake of playing with technology has no value – it must be applied to business problems or opportunities. Nobody gets rewarded for a better mousetrap if all the mice are already dead.
Once you have established a process for creating the need and environment for innovation, you can then institutionalize it within your enterprise business model. At that point you can then start to assign value propositions to the innovation projects (yes, they are projects and they need to be managed and measured just like any other project). As the old saying goes, “what gets measured gets done”.
What I have given you here is just the tip of the iceberg. Innovation is near and dear to me – more on this subject later.