by Stuart Cross

5 innovation killers and how to avoid them

Jan 19, 20123 mins
IT Strategy

Taking advantage of technology to drive and accelerate innovation is a key aspect of every CIO’s role.

As we continue to bump along through the ongoing economic turbulence, innovation — your company’s ability to create and deliver new forms of customer value — is increasingly important to driving growth.

Yet finding new technology-related opportunities is, perhaps, the easy bit.

If you really want to help drive innovation across your business you must also work with your executive colleagues to address the strategic, organisational and attitudinal inhibitors of innovation that exist in most companies.

I call these the innovation-killers, and you must eradicate them before your new ideas for growth can have a chance of succeeding.

Below are my top five innovation killers. How many of them exist in your business, and what actions are you taking to eradicate them?

1 An intolerance of failure. According to Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs, their number one reason for success is their ability to experiment fearlessly.

Conversely, many organisations become averse to prudent risk-taking and see any from of failure as a catastrophic event for which someone must be to blame, rather than a natural side effect of experimentation, learning and growth.

2 An excessive customer focus. Customers are poor predictors of their own future behaviour. Simply asking customers what they want is not enough.

You need to be alive to your target customers’ hopes, frustrations and compromises, but you cannot necessarily expect to identify them by asking.

Sometimes you just have to put something out there and gauge their reaction.

3 A desire for a magic pill, not a daily exercise regime. The old golfing adage, the more I practice the luckier I get, is not only relevant on the links, it is also true for innovation.

I have repeatedly found that it is quantity of ideas that primarily drives success.

You can’t do everything, and you need to be disciplined and focused in deciding which ideas you back with resources, but the more you can create a system to encourage and drive ongoing innovation, the greater your chance of ultimate success.

4 An unwillingness to cannibalise sales. Market leaders, in particular, can persuade themselves to forego future sales in order to protect current sales.

But, if you were to ask Kodak’s current board, I think that they would have welcomed greater innovation in digital technologies — at the expense of traditional film processing — 15 or 20 years ago.

5 A reliance on a small cadre of innovators. Not only should you look for ideas across your organisation, the most innovative companies are also working with other businesses to develop new customer value and solutions.

Today’s markets are too turbulent and fast-paced for you to take the risk of new projects on your own, and you are often better placed to access other companies’ complementary capabilities.

P&G, the giant consumer brands business, for example, has, in recent years, sourced 50 per cent;or more of its new product innovations in partnership with external organisations.