Is Innovation Difficult?


Share on LinkedIn

I got a lot of response to my recent blog post, Ten Red Flags for Innovation: Why It Fails. One came from David Williams, a consultant who rather blatantly wrote this:

“Stefan, Please stop the innovation “BS”. You are absolutely wrong when saying “unfortunately innovation is too complicated and company-specific for one standard rule”. Innovation is not complicated and there are common elements used to evaluate it and develope it.”

Although this opening argument as well as some of his later ones in a LinkedIn group irked me somewhat, they do feed a discussion based on what seems to be a simle question:

Is innovation difficult?

If you follow my blog, you know my view. Yes, innovation is difficult and complicated. If not, then someone please explain to me why so many companies – most of them having smart executives as well as smart managers and employees – struggle on making innovation happen or have trouble meeting their innovation objectives.

David Williams implies that he has the answer. All it takes is total commitment from the executives. He states that if and only if you have this kind of commitment innovation will be easy and simple.

To me, this sounds like a contradiction in terms. You cannot get total commitment from executives! Let me try to explain this.

First, it is my experience that many executives do not know enough about innovation to know what to do. There are simply too many unknowns for them to be able to totally commit to innovation. A good thing is that executives in general are getter better on innovation, but most of them are not where they need to be yet.

Second, most organizations have too many internal conflicts for a top executive to be able to commit totally to innovation. Innovation requires different kind of resources including financial, people and time/attention. Business units fight each other for these resources and a top executive needs to make choices.

If you throw in a corporate innovation unit into this mix, it just becomes even harder for a top executive to decide where to allocate the scarce resources and thus to which extent he can support innovation initiatives that creates the future versus the big machine that pays the bills today

I remember a good friend who several years ago ran a corporate innovation unit at an internationally well-known company. This guy understood things had to change fast and quite much. He got lots of support from the CEO, but one day our innovation guy was told that the CEO faced increasing pressure from the other executives. The innovation initaitive was going too far too fast. The message to the innovation guy: If I have to make a choice, you are the one who gets fired. Not the other executives.

The innovation guy left, the executive got fired later on and the company is in deep trouble today. I am quite sure that a stronger focus on innovation could have helped this company.

Third, I don’t even think you need a total focus innovation. You need executives with the right balance between focus on the future (innovation) and what pays the bills today (the big machine).

This is getting to be a long post. I could go on with lots of other arguments and examples on why I believe innovation is difficult and complicated, but I just keep getting back to one thought.

I have spent many years as an innovation consultant. I have worked with lots of smart people in many different companies and in many different industries. If innovation is easy and simple, why do these guys have to work so hard to make it happen?

Open for discussion.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Stefan Lindegaard
Stefan is an author, speaker, facilitator and consultant focusing on open innovation, social media tools and intrapreneurship.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here