Four Ways We Kill Innovation

by Rebel Brown

Four Ways We Kill InnovationHarvard Business Review had a great post last week entitled “5 Warning Signs That Your Innovation Efforts are Going Off the Rails.”

I had to chuckle as I read the post – focused on how to make innovation efforts a partnership with the core business focus, instead of a competition. I didn’t chuckle because it was amusing. I chuckled because I’ve seen all five ‘warning signs’ touted as the foundations of the innovation effort, not as unwanted by-products. We’re often proud to be operating in a way that produces just these signs. How wrong is that?

Based on a number of status quo approaches, we set up innovation as a competitor to our current model. It’s time we changed those status quos!

  1. We create a separate team. I actually recommend this is part of my consulting. When exploring new avenues we often need a focused team. But that doesn’t mean that team acts as a separate entity from the rest of the business. It certainly doesn’t mean that that team is lauded, given special dispensations or treatment. Yet that’s exactly what I often see. The innovation team becomes the rock stars, and the core team becomes the has-beens. That is not a path to growth.
  2. We create a competitive environment. Whether it’s for budget or resources, attention or accolades – we often pit our new innovations against our core business. We do it intentionally to create momentum. In reality, we create chaos. All too often we forget that we are all on the same team. When leaders forget that fact, our employees are sure to follow. I’ve seen teams positioned to be so competitive that they would do anything to win against the other team, whether that was good for the business or not. How does infighting within our business help us grow? The enemy is out there, folks.
  3. We force an either/or solution. The best innovations often build on our core business. That means we look at them with the perspective of “and”, not “or.” Yet how often do we create an environment where there must be a choice? Either we stay in our mainline business or we push for the innovation? Either we fund this project or that one – winner takes all. Forcing a choice between our mainline core business and an emerging innovation isn’t necessarily the best way to fuel growth. Our business loses.
  4. We use our legacy business model as a baseline for comparison. Talk about the kiss of death. We introduce innovation to expand beyond our core business models – and then we measure that innovation’s success based on the exact models we want to evolve. That new innovation isn’t capturing market share at the same rate, delivering the same profit margins is our entrenched core business? Off with it’s head! How backwards is that? That approach leaves us stuck in Gravity – the very status quo we were focused on removing when we began our innovation.

Successful innovation is critical to business growth. Yet when we separate innovation from our core business, set it apart as a unique process or proposition – we position innovation as “outside” our core business focus. We make innovation the exception rather than the rule, treat it as a point in time exercise rather than an integral part of the way we operate on a daily basis.

Only when we embrace innovation as a conscious and continuous part of our daily actions can we reap the rewards.

Do you treat innovation is an integral part of your business operations? Or is it that special thing, separate and divided from your core business? If it’s the former, good for you. If it’s the latter, it’s time to change the way you view and act on innovation.

Rebel BrownRebel Brown brings the strategic expertise and tactical savvy of a global Corporate Strategy, Launch and Turnaround Expert to each and every client or project. Visit her website to download a free chapter of her new book, Defy Gravity, and to receive Rebel’s weekly digest of thought-provoking and informative videos and articles.
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