The pitfalls of top-down innovation

Innovate on Purpose blogger Jeffrey Phillips suggests there are several reasons the big ideas of upper management don't always trickle down to the folks on the ground who are responsible for the actual work.

Among the ideas:

  1. Most senior executives aren't innovators themselves. Most senior executives grew through the organization and moved up by being effective stewards of the company's funds, resource and culture. Few senior executives in most organizations got to their posts by being demonstrably different.
  2. Since most executives are keepers of the culture, and in many cases creatures of the culture, they don't understand the amount of change necessary to move a company that's been focused on effectiveness, efficiency, cost cutting and minimizing errors or mistakes to a company that embraces innovation.  The biggest barrier to innovation isn't "creativity" or generating ideas or the ability to spot new opportunities.  The biggest barrier to innovation is cultural inertia and fear.
  3. Most executives are driven by the quarterly drumbeat of the market, and therefore many don't have patience to examine and understand longer term goals and strategy. Innovation, especially the disruptive innovation that everyone wants, is by its very nature a longer term effort.  So, while organizations talk about "white space" and executives demand "disruptive breakthroughs" many of them don't have the stomach for the longer term effort and don't understand the investment involved.
  4. Some innovation programs assume that executives should be the ones to generate the ideas, and the middle managers, product managers and so forth are the ones who should figure out how the ideas get implemented as new products. If you want to innovate, listen to the strategies being defined by the executive team and then go out and find out what customers really want and need, and align your ideas if possible to both requirements, giving more weight to the customers' needs.
  5. Many organizations are so large that it is difficult to have a crisp statement of strategy or strategic intent. Without clearly defined corporate goals and strategies, it becomes hard for innovators to decide which problems are more important and which ideas are valid.  In the absence of clear strategic and strategic direction, all ideas seem relevant.

However, Phillips also says innovation can't just come from the "bottom up." Read the whole post here.

In the coming weeks we will dive more deeply into why it's not only necessary for leaders to be involved in innovation, but essential.

Some of Our Clients

A Foundation of Experience Spanning over 20 Years