5 Self-Inflicted Obstacles to Innovation

5 Self-Inflicted Obstacles to Innovation

By Holly Green

It’s hard enough to innovate these days, and when we get in our own way, it makes it near impossible. Here are five things organizations typically do that undermine their efforts to innovate.

  1. Lean on past success.

    Success is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a double-edged sword. As companies experience success, their focus gradually shifts from exploring possibilities to maintaining the status quo. When that happens, people stop looking for new processes or solutions. And when problems arise, people tend to default to solutions that have worked in the past rather than exploring different ways of doing things. Clinging to the past slams the door on innovation and puts you out of touch with your customers’ changing needs – a dangerous approach in today’s highly volatile markets.

  2. Play not to lose.

    As leaders spend more time protecting current assets rather than looking for ways to develop new ones, the organizational mindset changes from “play to win” to “play not to lose.” This subtle shift in attitude slowly but surely drains the life from the innovation process. Innovation requires a constant flow of new ideas to keep up with rapidly changing customer needs and expectations. When you play to win, it creates an atmosphere and energy that brings out the best in people. When you play not to lose, people tend to just “suit up and show up,” leaving their creative ideas and best thinking at home.

  3. Follow the leader.

    Too often, companies try to innovate in response to a new entry into the market or an existing competitor’s innovation. However, true innovation leads the way rather than attempting to catch up. Don’t ignore what your competitors do in the marketplace, but don’t let it drive your innovation efforts. Figure out where your customers will need you to be in six months to a year and get there first. At the same time, don’t get caught up in unrealistic expectations. Putting all your eggs in one basket by expecting to come up with one new product that will save the company almost always ends in disappointment or disaster.

  4. Take the lone ranger approach.

    In many companies, innovation gets delegated to one team or department. That’s like asking a single NASA engineer to develop a new rocket ship to take mankind to Mars. In most cases, innovation is a team effort that requires a combination of skills and talents from many different departments and functions. It also requires open and honest communication across all levels of the organization. Unlike mushrooms and fungi, innovation does not flourish in dark, isolated silos or hidden corners.

  5. Withhold permission to fail.

    This is perhaps the biggest obstacle to innovation, and the hardest to overcome. Most organizations don’t tolerate failure very well to begin with. And once the organization shifts from exploring possibilities to protecting the status quo, failure becomes a capital offense, putting funding, projects and careers at risk. The problem with this approach is that failure goes hand-in-hand with innovation. If you’re not failing to some degree, you’re not pushing hard enough. Don’t minimize risk or tolerate poorly planned disasters. But if all failure gets punished, the seeds of innovation never get a chance to germinate, much less blossom.

To succeed, innovation should always link directly to your strategy. And it works best when it becomes a way of life rather a one-time event. Stop clinging to past successes, update your thinking constantly, and get rid of these self-inflicted obstacles. You’ll find it much easier to innovate and thrive in today’s hyper-paced world.

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