5 ways to kill innovation

Almost every manager wants to work in an innovative organisation. Unfortunately, these types of organisations are relatively rare. This might seem curious… until you realise how easy it is to kill innovation.

Here are five common habits you should avoid, as they are responsible for the demise of countless innovation attempts.

1. Focussing on the wrong problem

If you define your challenge inaccurately, you will look for answers to the wrong problem. You might find great solutions, only to realise later on that the underlying problem is still very much alive. Always make sure you properly assess what the issue really is. For instance, use the 5 Whys technique to identify the root cause of your problem. By detecting the underlying cause, you’ll be able to come up with a constructive solution instead of fighting symptoms.

2. Stopping at the first good idea

We see it happen all the time; when people find a great idea to tackle the challenge they face, they become overwhelmed with pride and relief. The job is done! They’ve found the solution they’d been looking for all this time.

Imagine their disappointment when we tell them there is no reason to stop. When we urge them to keep looking for creative ideas, their facial expression is usually one of confusion and disappointment. While we hate to see these sad faces, we have good reason to inflict this temporary sadness. People tend to give up their hunt for great ideas way too soon. The first good idea you come up with is hardly ever the best. The trick is to keep going and force yourself to find an even better alternative. Something less obvious. There is always a better idea and true innovators know this.

3. Judging ideas prematurely

Most people have little trouble naming a few colleagues who are absolute idea-killers. Judging ideas is easy and pointing out what’s wrong with a suggestion is hard to resist. Unfortunately, the temptation to name all the risks and flaws of an idea effectively hinders innovation. Discarding wild or impractical ideas hurts the ideation process. It rashly cuts off entire lines of thought. While the initial ‘wild’ idea might have been impractical, illegal or in poor taste, there is no way to predict to what this crazy thought might lead. Building on ideas is one of the most important parts of idea generation. Every idea can pave the way for brilliant insights. Using ideas as stepping stones is perhaps the only way truly innovative thoughts are born. Suspending your judgement is not just recommendable… it’s absolutely necessary if you aim for creative ideas.

4. Failing to involve key players

In an organisation, you can’t innovate alone. Anyone can be creative and generate brilliant ideas, but if you want the implementation to be successful you’d better involve the key players. There are three types of people you need to include;

Those whose support is essential
Having powerful allies can make or break a project. Identify managers and directors with the power to grant (and withdraw) budget and manpower. Make sure these people are closely involved in the process. Don’t just inform them. Make them participate! A manager who was there when the ideas were generated is much more likely to be supportive when the ideas are implemented. You need this engagement to ensure the necessary financial and ‘political’ backing.

Those whose labour is essential
You can generate an idea on your own, but when you want to execute it you generally need the help of others. If you manage to involve these others early on in the process, you will save yourself a lot of trouble. Internal support is probably the most important factor in any innovation process. If the people who have to make things happen don’t believe in the idea, you are likely to face resistance. And even if this does not worry you, you might want to consider if you really want to miss out on valuable expert opinions! The people who will eventually execute the idea know best what to take into account. Not making use of their expertise is both arrogant and foolish. You’ve got nothing to lose by involving them early on, and lots to gain! Believe me, you’d be surprised to learn how many people love to share their knowledge. Most people will be pleased to be included.

Those who will be using it
There’s one other group of stakeholders who can make or break an innovation; the end users. Failing to involve this group may result in a solution that is perfectly reasonable, yet doesn’t resonate with the target audience. If those who will be impacted by the change don’t support it, there is little chance of success. Most people are sceptical about using something new they don’t know, but anyone will be excited to start using something they themselves helped design!

5. Playing by the rules

The more experience people have, the more they are hindered by their knowledge of ‘how things work’. Written and unwritten rules are all around us. Many of these rules are in place for good reason, but certainly not all of them. The merit of all rules (especially unwritten ones) should always be open to discussion, for trying to solve a tricky situation can be severely hindered by them. It’s hard to rid yourself of your assumptions, but it is paramount that you do this if you want to innovate. Tough problems are generally not solved with conventional means. Usually, a new, original approach is required. The kind of clever and surprising solution you won’t find just by using your experience. Always try to bend or break the rules you perceive.

Save yourself a lot of frustration and avoid making these mistakes. If you simply keep a wary eye out for these five deadly sins, you’ll set the stage for innovation success.


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