Over the last several months, we've conducted webinars on the Invisible Enemies of Innovation to highlight common roadblocks to innovation success and how to address them. We focused on easy-to-implement tactics that innovation leaders can use to quickly change the way they innovate.
We spend a lot of time talking with potential customers about their innovation needs and challenges, and one thing is for sure: unique innovation problems just don’t exist. Not once have I heard myself saying “Well, that’s one I’ve never heard before!”
In these talks with innovation leaders, I repeatedly find myself in discussions about what we call The Invisible Enemies of Innovation. Innovators of all types -- from corporations to our partners at the U.S. Air Force -- experience these problems.
Luckily, there are ways to overcome these invisible enemies, and it all boils down to innovation governance. As an entrepreneur who has spent my entire career in innovation, I feel confident telling innovation leaders that these enemies can in fact be eliminated through both the right approach and the right software. (If you didn't pick up on that subtle hint, I’m talking about the Productable platform.)
Enemy #1: Valley of Death: This is where ideas go to die. It's where solutions get lots of support to get started, but then they stall when it comes down to funding and execution.
How to eliminate it: Through better resource and process planning. Leaders need to preallocate budget at early, mid and late stages of development, and innovators need to always be thinking about what’s next.
The Valley of Death is one of the biggest challenges that the Productable platform solves. We address both leadership and innovator roles with portfolios structured specifically for innovation, bridging the gap that often sends projects into the valley.
Enemy #2: Working In A Silo: This is the reluctance to lean on external technologies and subject matter experts, and it goes against a growth mindset.
How to eliminate it: Create room to nurture external partnerships. There are so many ways to do this. It could be as simple as engaging a process expert or methodologist to provide best practices or establishing a program - like corporate venture capital - to bring outside technology into the fold.
Enemy #3: The Frozen Middle: This refers to the stalling of innovations, often due to the lack of the right strategy at the right time, and is ubiquitous in large organizations with bureaucratic complexities.
How to eliminate it: With improved communication and collaboration. More specifically, we recommend identifying communication gaps and improving the feedback loop then focusing on strategic alignment. In the Productable platform, we address all these issues within our Progress Measurement module, putting a focus on cadence, accountability and phase progression.
Enemy #4: Outputs Not Outcomes: This to-do list mindset prioritizes outputs over outcomes and mistakes activity for value creation.
How to Eliminate It: Develop strategies to drive toward real innovation outcomes. In the webinar below, government innovation expert Adam Furtado outlines an outcomes framework that leads to organizational impact and helps you determine if you’re optimizing for outputs instead of outcomes.
Enemy #5: Just Innovate Something: This refers to the solution-first tendency to gather ideas without defining the problems your organization needs to solve.
How to eliminate it: Give innovators very clear direction and open the doors for fearless experimentation. Not only do you want to define the problems you’re trying to solve, you also want to think about the strategic result you’re looking for and create a clear process around best practices to get there.
Enemy #6: Slickest Sales Pitch: This is when shiny but ineffective decision-making mechanisms - like voting on ideas - are used instead of thoughtful guidelines.
How to eliminate it: Predefine your decision criteria to help guide you. In our work with the U.S. Air Force, quick and nimble decision-making is always top of mind. We were able to accelerate their project velocity by 4x by doing a few things: creating predefined decision criteria, establishing a cadence for progress updates and regularly addressing barriers.
Enemy #7: Must Adhere to Vision: This refers to the stubborn determination to make an idea work even when all signs are leading to a pivot.
How to eliminate it: Go into innovation with an open mind. Be ready to pivot over and over again, be willing to exploit opportunities that come your way and expect to get uncomfortable, especially when you’re innovating something meaningful.
Enemy #8: Perfection Over Progress: This allows the unreasonable desire for perfection to get in the way of the incremental progress it takes to achieve long term results.
How to eliminate it: Change your 100% success mindset. Instead, set the expectation that you’ll only succeed 5% of the time, and build your team to include people who are good at the 5% mindset. Ask the question “Could this work?” instead of “How do I make this work?”
Enemy #9: Fear of Failure: This often prevents potential innovators from sharing their ideas, and it keeps organizations from having a true culture of innovation.
How to eliminate it: Celebrate failure and influence the direction in which you fail. Learn the difference between epic failure and optimal failure, make it a known part of the innovation process and truly celebrate it.
Enemy #10: Not How We Do Things: This stifles creativity and true innovation by demanding strict adherence to the way things have always been done.
How to eliminate it: Understand the three different flavors of this mindset then align the right stakeholders, tools and processes to overcome it. Balance this with accountability, and you’ll find it easier to get past the barriers associated with this attitude.
Rachel Kuhr Conn is an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, researcher, world-traveler and lifelong academic dedicated to making true transformation easier for all. She founded Productable after perfecting her own innovation process for Mark Cuban’s portfolio of startups and is on a mission to help the world’s largest organizations drive fearless experimentation.
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In 2014 I went skiing for the first time. After a few hours of instruction I hit the slopes, convinced I could pizza and french fry with the best of them, and immediately broke my leg and blew out my knee.
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