5 Ways to Fail at Innovation

Most innovators are optimists. There’s no such thing as a bad idea – only an unfinished one. Every setback is an opportunity in disguise. Even failure itself has become a virtue.

Yet, within corporations, innovation programs are fragile things. Large portions of the organization view the innovation team as a foreign entity. Innovation programs thrive on processes and metrics that don’t mesh easily with the core. For corporate innovators, risk lies around every corner.

For a moment, let’s adopt a pessimist mindset. Here are five classic reasons innovation efforts fail in the modern enterprise:

1. Move straight to “solution” mode. Many innovation teams are so concerned with being agile and entrepreneurial that they spend precious little time understanding where to point their efforts. The result is scattershot activities that never grow up to deliver big-league results.

2. Agonize over investment decisions too early. Spend all your time debating strategies and arguing business cases, and one thing is certain – you won’t be innovating. In many cases, you can postpone large, highly deliberative decisions by breaking development efforts into smaller, modular decision points.

3. Bungle team composition. Having “the usual people” working on an innovation project is a surefire way for it to fall into committee and go nowhere. Empower the people with passion, energy, and incentive to carry the torch – rather than perfunctory involvement of the regular folks in Marketing or Engineering.

4. Fail to account for scale-up. Everyone gets excited about a shiny idea, or a cool pilot. But how will you monetize it sustainably in the marketplace? That’s when the party ends, and most people simply hope they’re not the one left holding the bag. From day one, foster a healthy cultural balance between garage entrepreneur and savvy corporate executive.

5. Default to business-as-usual process. Lots of organizations try to implement “innovation” using their tried-and-true business practices. Recognize that best practices of innovation are different from how you’re used to working, and force your team to learn the real tricks of the trade – Discovery, Lean Startup, Ideation, Creative facilitation, Design Thinking, etc.

This advice may seem obvious, but we’re constantly amazed at how easy it is to make these mistakes – repeatedly – even when you’re well aware of the consequences.

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