• Rachel Kuhr Conn

Why It's So Hard to be an Innovation Leader

Updated: Jul 1

Most innovation leaders are aware of this fact: Industrial companies have been slipping out of the Fortune 500 in favor of technology ever since the dot com boom. In fact, Innosight’s 2018 Corporate Longevity Forecast found that the 33-year average tenure of companies on the S&P 500 in 1964 narrowed to 24 years by 2016 and is forecast to shrink to just 12 years by 2027.


This data point serves as a crystal ball for innovation leaders, who understand the pace of innovation is faster than ever. Innovation leaders, including myself, have built their careers around the emergence of corporate innovation teams. Because of this, those in innovation generally seek out more progressive corporations - like the ones I talk about in this blog post.


Unfortunately, the turnover rate for innovation leaders is incredibly high. The reasons? Burnout, for one. Innovation is demanding, and you can only go full speed for so long. But I suspect the biggest reason is unreasonable executive expectations. These lofty expectations will make or break an organization’s innovation success...and it’s innovation leader, too.


Unreasonable Expectation #1: Go disrupt our industry...on an undetermined budget.

Innovation leaders are expected to go build the next big thing, make it scale and have it drive more money than the legacy business. But Gartner says only 9 percent of companies create enough capacity to take on the growth opportunities they pursue. In other words, many organizations want to create disruptive innovations on an incremental budget. Innovation leaders roll with this, mostly because they’re entrepreneurial thinkers and know entrepreneurs must leap over resource hurdles to be successful.


This sets innovation leaders up for failure.


Unreasonable Expectation #2: Figure it out on your own.


Most organizations have yet to figure out how to align their business goals with innovation goals, leaving innovation leaders with their hands tied. There is little transparency around desired outcomes and no clear path to the resources they need to make innovation happen. The most recent PwC Innovation Benchmark found 54 percent of innovating organizations have trouble bridging the gap between innovation strategy and the larger business strategy.


This sets innovation leaders up for failure.


Unreasonable Expectation #3: Run innovation like other business units.


Further emphasizing just how big this aforementioned gap is, a recent Accenture study found that 82% of organizations run innovation just like regular operations, even though innovation is a different kind of beast. Much like expectations with other business units, innovation leaders are expected to know outputs on exact dates and how much money new solutions will make. But unlike other business units, it’s difficult to tie innovation down to yields and deadlines since any given idea takes on a life of its own with experimentation and iteration.


This sets innovation leaders up for failure.


Unreasonable Expectation #4: Don’t take risks.


A whopping 94 percent of executives are dissatisfied with innovation performance, according to a McKinsey study. I say, this is a byproduct of the wrong mindset. Counter to the fundamentals of innovation, leaders are rarely given the space they need to take risks and innovate successfully. Executive leadership wants bulletproof success, which points innovation leaders down a more conservative path with just a handful of projects at a time.


This sets innovation leaders up for failure.


Thankfully, there’s something that can be done about all of these innovation roadblocks, but it comes with adopting a new approach: Portfolio Innovation. In short, Portfolio Innovation is about strategic alignment on all fronts: resource allocation, risk tolerance and mitigation, goal setting and fearless experimentation.

Productable turned the process into software, and Accenture talks about the value of Portfolio Innovation in this report. I literally quit my job as an innovation consultant to launch Productable and turn the process I researched, tested and developed into a platform that works for organizations of all sizes. That’s how much I believe in the approach.



To sign up for our upcoming ebook on the how-tos of Portfolio Innovation, click the GET MORE INFO link on our homepage.


Rachel Kuhr Conn is an entrepreneur, intrapreneur, researcher, world-travel

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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