Why does innovation fail?


Why does innovation fail?



We often get invited to speak about innovation and change at events and conferences, something we absolutely love to do. Talking to groups of people about the stuff we’re so passionate about is a lot of fun. And an additional bonus is that we get to see other speakers as well. Some of which are great, and then some fall in the ‘that all sounds great but now what” category. In other words, they say a lot of words that sound important, inspiring even, but no one really understands what to do after the speech is over.

An absolute favourite subject in that category is when speakers talk about what innovation is, about building innovative cultures and specifically doing that through having a safe to fail culture. Sure, we all understand that in order for innovation to succeed learning and feeling comfortable about being creative without fear of blame or ridicule is important. But what do you do with that notion. Do you go back and tell your staff that it’s now safe to fail? Just saying those words won’t change anything, and would you even want everyone to feel that it’s safe to fail? And embrace risk with potentially huge consequences?

The answer is of course no. You don’t change a culture and become innovative as an organisation by just telling people to take risks and behave differently.  And moreover, risk-taking, whilst being an element which is important for innovation, is not itself, something which will drive innovation. If you want to become an innovative organisation, you don’t start the process by changing the culture. Getting the starting point and the order of your activities right is critical. Cultural change is an output of everything you’ll do, not the initial input to driving the change!

The right starting point to become an innovative organisation (with an innovative culture!) is to get strategic alignment on what innovation is, and what the innovation goals are for your organisation. What are you trying to achieve? Innovation is a means to an end, so you have to define the end. Then, you implement appropriate structural elements such as valid innovation metrics and processes; and you build innovation capability and give people the skills they need to lead innovation and become great innovators.

Put these foundations in place, and innovation culture can be surprisingly easy to develop.  Just put the building blocks in place, have the right drivers and remove the blockers. And stop listening to that speaker. He really isn’t that helpful.

If you would like some more information on this topic, I’d love to hear from you! I’m an Organisational Psychologist at strategic innovation consultancy Orange Squid, and innovation and change are two of my favourite topics. Drop me a line at astrid@orangequid.com.au. I’d love to hear from you!

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