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“We are focusing on something else right now.”
“We already focus on innovation, but we call it something else.”
“We already have a strategy for innovation.”
“That’s not my job.”
While challenges for companies vary, excuses for a lack of innovation are always surprisingly similar. Below are three everyday excuses you may hear in your own organization that may make your hairs stand on end, and set alarm-bells ringing.
Included are some tips on how you can make excuses a thing of the past, while creating real innovation for the future.
“It’s not my job”
Try asking some of your colleagues who they think is responsible for innovation in the company. Bewildered answers can range from the development department to production, or marketing to senior management.
The only thing most people agree on is that innovation is not their job, let alone something they should prioritize. Someone else takes care of it.
You may have approached the sales team whose only task is to sell what the production team makes.
But go to the production department and they say they’re fighting hard to keep up with the long list of demands that the development department sends them.
Visit the development department and the vicious cycle is complete when it is explained that the sales team is constantly coming up with new demands.
The buck is passed around, from one department to another. It quickly becomes clear that these departments are siloed and don’t “do’ innovation.
Equally, part of the challenge is to understand what an innovation is.
In my book Listen Louder I highlight, among other things, how we need to take a more critical look at our readiness for change.
“Readiness’ is a bad concept, especially when talking about innovation. Being “ready’ means waiting for something to happen.
So by being “ready for change’, paradoxically, we put ourselves in a situation where we are waiting for a development to come to us. By then, it could be too late to capitalize on its full potential.
We should not simply “be ready’. We should be driving and “going to’ the change ourselves.
Innovation is therefore something that depends not on one person, or even one department. It is an institutional culture which needs to permeate all levels, where an entire organization has an innovative mind-set every day.
Established companies can learn from the startup culture, where innovation is a necessity for survival and provides the driving force among startup entrepreneurs.
Startups usually start by researching their business model. It is an innovative process where they try to create sufficient value that others will pay money for.
They search for a problem worth solving, meaning they become less focused on the product and more focused on the problems. This requires a much broader view compared to more established organizations.
How to get started:
Accept that your organization needs to focus on the four essential pillars of innovation: creativity – including the ability to experiment, a strong feedback culture, an incentive to change the status quo and the ability to revise and scale. Ways to achieve this can include:
- Creating internal “solution days’, where the path to a given goal is rewarded rather than simply achieving the goal;
- Starting a monthly “Friday bar for innovation’ where all the employees who are interested in innovation and new ideas can meet and talk;
- Creating an internal blog or newsletter that shares intern experiments, the effects of them, as well as thoughts on groundbreaking innovation happening in the world.
“Management is best at evaluating the potential of new ideas.”
It’s not the number of ideas that make a company more successful, but the right ideas. Unfortunately it’s difficult to know when an idea is good or not, and as people we are generally not great at judging this. Just have a look at this collection of 25 meaningless inventions, including diet water and a gasoline-powered flashlight…
It is understandable that top management, the people who have successfully worked to understand the market, believe it is their responsibility to pick and choose the ideas that they think will bring the company future success.
Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. The world is too complex, the needs of customers change regularly and competition is too difficult for even the most brilliant minds on the board of directors to be able to predict the future alone.
Since we can’t predict the future, the trick is to kill bad ideas quickly. In the context of “Lean Startup’, we speak about how companies must “fail often, fail fast and fail cheap’. The companies who test their idea by experimenting in the market, gain faster and cheaper feedback than companies that sit behind a desk and try to predict what will happen.
How to get started:
- Identify outdated products and experiment to bring them new life;
- Identify concerns about new initiatives and do tests on them that can help confirm or dismiss any weaknesses;
- Use experiments to gather proof of what works, then it will be easier to convince any reluctant boss who needs to back up the change.
“We already know what our client wants!”
Over time, companies build up a special understanding of their clients. This understanding is based on a number of assumptions and beliefs that all too often are not updated or remain unchallenged. Instead, they could become insights that are no longer supported by the reality of the market.
Market studies often confirm and reinforce what you already know, instead of testing the assumptions to reject them or confirm them.
We are good at categorizing our existing clients, for example by demographics, but at the same time we are bad at understanding what motivates or inspires them.
It gets worse. In a strong, siloed company, people often work without keeping the client in mind. Employees focus on their own tasks, because that is how their performance is measured, instead of working to create value for their clients.
The core of “Lean Innovation’ is to understand a client’s problem. By utilizing the “design thinking process’ to better understand customers, employees learn more about a client’s needs and desires.
How to get started:
- Listen to your new employees when they ask why something is done in a certain way. It is an opportunity to see things from a new perspective;
- Observe your customers in the natural way they interact with your company (for example: if you sell to restaurants, ask permission to go undercover as a waiter for your customers);
- Practice your role so you don’t miss something and let it fall through the cracks. Approach the conversations you have this week by talking with your clients about their problems without mentioning your product. Just listen, ask questions and listen some more until you get under the skin of your clients and understand what really drives them.