The Epic Fail of Innovation

INNOVATION — how to create it, how to implement it, how to generate it. But what exactly are referring to when we say INNOVATION? A lot of times when an organization is referring to innovation that aren’t technically referring to anything revolutionary or unique a lot of times they are saying innovation because it sounds more opulent or grandiose.

We’ve seen this a lot of times within our own organizations we’ve seen this done. Tweaks or little incremental adjustments and the company will refer to them as INNOVATIONS. ‘Restructuring’ to better cater to the demands of the market or to re-align our internal effectiveness are often promoted as innovations but are they just a company performing internal improvements?

The problem is Senior Leadership sees and issues and knows something needs to happens but instead of taking the necessary risk, they decide to go the safe route and just implement an improvement when and call it an innovation when nothing less than a full scale innovation will do.

The Epic Fail of Innovation:

Here’s what we usually see: Management decides that they need to innovate. Individuals and teams form a working group, establish a charter, and set out to work on innovation and improvement initiatives. But unfortunately the results are usually a rehash of something they are already doing. If, after some time, these teams paused and reflected on their efforts they might have even convinced themselves to feel some sense of accomplishment — because anything other than achievement would indicate that their efforts were a colossal waste of time; but as an objective outsider we know they are.

Let me tell you my story:

Years ago, when I was a younger man, early in my career, I was appointed to an Presidents Advisory Board on Innovation for an organization I work with. It was a great idea, the intended goal was to find ways to increase productivity ergo having a direct effect on revenues. The handful of people in the group were there because of three specific reasons, the branch President trusted us, we were with the organization for a while, and supposedly were known for questioning the status quo. We were also relatively senior — principals, directors, and senior managers. We brainstormed, broke into mini-teams, and came up with the ideas. Very quickly, we realized that we didn’t have all the answers, the end result: a lot of time, frustration, and some minor improvements — but little in the way of actual innovation.

So what happened? We were all capable leaders within the company, we all had passion for the project which is important, and none of us were considered company folks, we are all creative people.

There lacked vision. It’s important that we have something on the horizon, that gives the group focus.

Risk-Taker Culture. Not to get into it too much but a number of our really great ideas were roundly dismissed by upper management, they kept saying that wouldn’t work here. While us mid-level people, who are on the ground knew the risky moves would work. Innovation only works when risk is involved, if not all you have is slight improvement.


We must differentiate between innovation and improvements…

To truly innovate we must be willing to be risk-takers and ask the hard questions that no one wants to hear if not all we are really doing it just slight improvements on the status quo and that won’t get you what you wanted, which is true innovation.


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