I asked myself a different question today: What do I believe about innovation but simply avoid saying to be politically correct? What am I not saying?
At the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon I’ve decided to state some things I believe to be true about innovation which may offend. Innovation is difficult and it doesn’t happen enough because of these eight impediments, so, this needs said.
Eight Politically Incorrect Statements About Innovation:
- Top Management doesn’t understand creativity. They say they want it but when they experience it the gut reaction is to disavow it, restrain it, fire it. Most top managers are uncomfortable with classically creative people.
- A lot of people with innovation in their title do little or no innovation. The focus at big companies is operations and marketing of existing products. Employees, even innovation focused employees, don’t innovate fast enough. They don’t have time.
- Best practices are stupid. By the time something is a best practice it’s too late to be an advantage. You should know innovation best practices. Then, go them one better, one different. Thank you Stephen Shapiro.
- Everybody says they want breakthrough ideas, few really do. The unwritten rule at many companies is: “Breakthroughs are not wanted here.” I’ve seen it, I’ve heard it — somebody comes up with a potentially big breakthrough idea and everybody, management especially, finds every way possible to avoid going there. Breakthrough ideas take time, money, and courage, all of which are in short supply. Which leads to #5 —
- Risk aversion rules. I’ve heard it said — “We want to take big risks and get big rewards.” Then, when a big risk/reward opportunity presents itself, it’s ruled out. It’s pervasive; big ideas are squashed before they even get put into a concept form or a pitch presentation. Let’s face it — big ideas make everybody uncomfortable.
- Organizations don’t really want “big thinkers.” They often go out of their way to hire big thinkers — then they ignore them. Big thinkers (a “High Innovator” on the KAI scale) are routinely isolated, castigated, and excluded by the many normal thinkers around them. If Steve Jobs worked for you, right now, you’d probably fire him. Big thinkers come with baggage: abrasiveness, rule breaking, risk, and chaos.
- Organizations pay lip service to the concept of having fun at work. When people have too much fun at work managers think they’re goofing off. Then they are subtly warned, or not so subtly disciplined, or fired, or removed to the woodshed. The value of play is now well understood but it’s not seen so much in the real world.
- Market research is usually a waste of money. It’s not the answer for innovation, particularly breakthrough innovation. Innovation is rarely as simple as implementing a consumer insight. What is often labeled a consumer insight is only the top layer of a seven layer onion. Market researchers are overly cautious. It’s one thing to know what consumers say they need — it’s another to know how they think and why they think it — and that’s where innovation comes from. Think Apple stealing mobile music away from Sony. Yes, you should do strategic market research, but you need to think beyond it to innovate.
I have remedies of course — but that’s another blog post. Maybe eight blog posts.