Obstacles to Innovation
Today, the number of businesses that don’t describe themselves as innovative is dwindling. That’s because we all recognize the fundamental importance of innovation: It creates opportunity, transforms markets, and fuels growth. But it thrives on uncertainty, and that’s something that makes many leaders nervous.
Plenty of companies that claim to foster innovation are actually smothering it. This is especially true when a business is in crisis mode; strategic innovation is deemed “not vital" and shoved to the back burner. But whether they’re aware of it or not, many companies confound their own ability to innovate through a common set of obstacles, making innovation impossible even as leaders push for it. Those include:
1. An organizational culture that stifles uncertainty.
Every business has the potential to innovate. Many, however, deny this potential by focusing exclusively on cut-and-dried performance metrics. This narrow-minded pursuit of conformity and predictability stifles ideas that are new and unique, as they are a perceived threat to efficiency.
For a company to innovate, there needs to be room to experiment, play, and fail. There must be a language for fostering, managing, and measuring innovation — a language that extends across the entire business. Organizational culture sets the foundation for innovation.
2. Using the phrase “Prove it."
Early-stage innovation is, for lack of a better word, fuzzy. When an idea is born, it is malleable, fragile, and imbued with limitless potential; it’s not something that can be easily quantified. So when an employee brings a new idea to a manager and the response is “Prove it," leadership is essentially clipping the idea’s wings.
If that employee fails to prove her idea and experiences a form of rejection, that may well prevent her from taking the risk to think creatively in the future.
3. A focus on past glory and a “one-right-way" mindset.
Success in the past can create an undertow in the present, sucking down anything on the horizon that doesn’t look like what came before. Companies that obsess over recreating past glory are doomed to a narrow mindset. Why innovate when you feel you already know all there is to know about the business?
Because things are always changing, this mindset is not sustainable. It restricts flexibility and monopolizes the oxygen that might breathe life into something new.
4. Maintaining a culture of fear of failure.
An enterprise that is struggling to innovate will strive to maximize efficiency, effectiveness, and quality. These are critical indicators that can accommodate certain levels of risk. However, if risk and failure are off-limits, leadership won’t invest in transformational strategic initiatives that capture or create new markets.
In the long run, the drive to protect efficiency, effectiveness, and quality can damage organizational health.