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3 Reasons Innovation Fails


Wed Jun 14 2017

3 Reasons Innovation Fails

Innovation is a tough dart to land for many companies. Most organizations see the value of innovation, whether it be internal innovation that revamps processes and systems, or external innovation that creates a new product or service. They might even succeed in rallying teams around the idea of innovation and getting people excited about the possibilities, only to fall short before hitting the bullseye.

Because the reality is that most innovations fail. At some point in the innovation process—maybe ideation, planning, or even implementation—companies encounter obstacles that stop innovation in its tracks, and ultimately the idea is abandoned.


Sometimes the idea of innovation just seems too daunting. People don’t know where to start, and the whole process seems like too much work. Or maybe they think innovation is something that only major companies like Google, Tesla, and all of those billion-dollar startups in the news are doing.

This is just not true. Innovation is for everyone. It is simply a new way of doing things that results in greater value, or some sort of creativity that results in economic benefit. Any company can create innovation, and even make it a routine part of the business culture, if they simply have an established process to follow—and if they know and can plan for the top reasons that innovation fails.  

Innovation Must Overcome Complacency 

Finding a new way to do something is hard work; it takes patience, an inquisitive mind, and a desire for growth. Most innovation isn’t even attempted because people think the way they are currently doing things is working well enough. It’s the old adage, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” But companies and cultures don’t evolve if they don’t innovate.

Peter Drucker once said that every time you introduce a new product or service, you should immediately start planning for its obsolescence. The reason is that if you don’t retire that product, service, or model intentionally, your competitors will.

Innovators, and those who lead innovation, are swimming upstream against people’s natural tendency to be complacent because change is hard. It’s against human nature. Human nature is to hope that the status quo will keep things moving. 


Innovation Takes More Ideas Than You Think 

Those undertaking innovation routinely underestimate the number of ideas that it takes to find that one dynamic idea. In fact, a study in Research-Technology Management showed that it takes about 3,000 ideas to produce one commercial innovation. Biotech and pharmaceutical innovation require between 6,000 to 8,000 ideas per innovation.

People are often so focused on efficiency that they can’t make enough space for all of the ideas that are required to get to that new level of thinking. The idea that will create significant change for your organization has usually not even been imagined at the beginning of the process. It requires an innovation plan to generate an idea that would be impossible to see otherwise.

Your team must also be open to the fact that they will have many poor ideas before coming up with something that works. Most leaders don’t give their people enough time and flexibility to be that creative; they want something efficient. Whether it’s iterative or disruptive innovation, if you can give the freedom to create a culture of innovation in your company, the process of generating ideas will always be in motion.  

Innovation Takes the Right People 

Most leaders don’t understand how to adequately organize people’s strengths to amplify the innovation process. People bring a variety of talents, traits, and skills to the different steps of the innovation process. But if they are involved in the wrong stage, they may stall or even eradicate an idea that has great promise.


For example, if you have someone who is overly analytical in the ideation stage, they will want to vet all the ideas, and will ultimately kill the innovation during brainstorming. By contrast, when in the vetting stage, a dreamer will be ineffective and even stall progress by continuing to come up with ideas.

There are six stages to successful innovation, and leaders must understand in which stage their people best fit—where they feel motivated, inspired, and can successfully use their talents toward the end goal. It’s not a question of whether people are creative enough; everybody has creativity potential, but you have to allow them to be creative in their own ways.

Understanding where people fit best in the innovation process is as easy as using assessments. We use one that measures behavioral traits, driving forces, cognitive judgment patterns, and learned skills. We then match each individual’s unique patterns to the innovation process stages. Once you identify the talents and passions of your people, they can be facilitators instead of obstacles in the innovation process.

As with all management disciplines, innovation is both science and art. The “science” part is built on proven theories and practices in creating value and, consequently, economic benefit throughout the innovation continuum. The “artistic” part of innovation helps leaders see the hidden connections between people and process in a way that unleashes new opportunities for growth and success. The result is that with a broader and deeper understanding of innovation framework, everyone can be an innovator.

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