Five Reasons Why Enterprises Stumble at Innovation

Innovation

In an earlier post we covered social factors that lead to acceptance of failure in startups, reading it would help get some context. Writing that post gave me another perspective for why enterprises fail at innovation, I have written a few posts around this topic. For example in an old post replace collaboration with innovation and you will find views there still hold.

Conclusion from earlier failure in startups posts was that stance of accepting failure as possibility is key for new ideas and businesses be created. Which dovetails, in my view, about why large enterprises so often stumble at innovation, or don’t innovate at the level they should, especially considering the resources they have. Here are my five reasons.

Decide and Move Forward

The positive aspect of being risk averse is being thorough in planning and execution. The negative aspect is when all and sundry want to make sure fingers will not point at them when things go wrong. One does not need to play russian roulette with new ideas but can definitely exercise judgement in the interests of moving forward.

Blind Adherence to Processes

Processes that make sure repeatability actively prevent people from thinking about the case on hand. The letter of the processes takes front-seat, the spirit goes quietly slinking away. What I am responsible for becomes more important than doing what is right for the organization.

Assumptions of Invariant Context

Enterprises plan and organize for continuity of service. One key assumption in planning is that external factors, the context in which they work, do not change. Or even if they account for contextual factors it is often viewed via old lenses and biases. This was an acceptable assumption is the industrial era. For the information age, there could be no assumption more fatal to organizations. A globalized economy does not pause to catch a nap or a breather. Everywhere people are thinking, building and moving forward faster.

Not all Gatekeepers are Visionaries

Anyone who has pushed a new initiative in an organization must know the mind-numbing conversations where every passer-by is to approve the idea. They have a fancy term for this, “building consensus”, which is a sound process in principle but seldom works as it should. The assumption that all you talk to are skilled enough to judge an idea and understand nuances is not always true. Go to any organization who don’t innovate as much as they should and you will find well-intentioned, risk averse and turf hugging people holding the organization back.

Innovation is pursuit of an unknown perfection

Of course there will and must be solid research into the idea, business models built, costs and revenue estimated & tracked etc. But at heart innovation is a venturing into the unknown. Every prototype, every conversation, every contact with a potential customer peels the layer off the next revolutionary product. Having to run an idea past a committee or make it jump through bureaucratic hoops is a quick way to snuff out every wisp of innovation.

What do you think?

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Church of the Checkbox

This tribe thrives in bureaucratic environments.

Its primary output is a list of checkboxes. Its priests man the toll booth of progress. Every man who would pass through it has to pay the price.

The Byzantine maze appears as the model of clarity in front of it.

It bakes in multiple levels of redundancy to ensure no unforeseen progress occurs.

And progress being shy shuns this tribe. Afterall what glory is there in being anticipated.

This tribe justifies its dysfunction citing the apocalypse that would result otherwise. The threat of anarchy keeps its members staring at the wall.

The mouth of the Cave, and all its terror of truth and beauty and serendipity remain hidden in the light of day.

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