It is a struggle to innovate continuously, but that is what today’s consumers and buyers demand from every company. Yes, you can have nostalgic products that sell well, but it is the new, exciting products and services people seek in the marketplace. They can be placated with innovations of old products, but the novelty will wear off soon if the change is minor.
Having been in the business world for over 50 years, I believe I have seen every excuse for not being innovative, ranging from no funding to not enough creative staffing to make it happen or inability to find the necessary technology to make it work. But at the core of all of these is human intervention or lack thereof.
Here are ten factors that hold back corporations from being truly innovative, and they are all human factors:
1. Resistance to Change: Some leaders may resist change and prefer to stick with traditional methods, fearing disruption or uncertainty. This also applies to the individuals working within the companies. The adage that “it’s always been done that way” has stymied many companies and brought more than a few to their demise. Let’s face it: change is not going anywhere, and there is nothing we can do to make it go away, so the key is learning to leverage change in small bites and nibbles so it can be tolerated more easily.
2. Lack of Vision: Leaders may struggle to inspire and guide their teams toward innovative ideas and solutions without a clear vision for innovation. Many started with a clear vision but began settling for average somewhere along the line rather than continuously seeking excellence and innovation. The vision has become watered down or distorted so much that stakeholders can’t support it anymore. Either way is disastrous for any company.
3. Risk Aversion: Fear of failure can lead leaders to avoid taking risks associated with innovation, even though risk-taking is often necessary for breakthroughs. The opposite is also true because some have ignored risks rather than trying to leverage them to learn and grow, hence running into some massive roadblocks that could have been avoided. Risk management should never be ignored, but it can be controlled with proper due diligence and discipline.
4. Short-Term Focus: This has been one of my pet peeves in all 50 years I was in management. Leaders who focused on short-term results to prioritize immediate gains over long-term innovation hindered the development of new ideas and innovations. It has also been one of the major causes of stakeholders losing faith in leadership because they feel ignored and subject to unrealistic expectations and goals. This often resulted in high turnover, difficulty hiring new people, and convincing Wall Street that they were a progressive company.
5. Bureaucracy: Organizations with excessive bureaucracy can stifle innovation by slowing decision-making and creating rigid processes. Companies have often been coached to think big but act small in the marketplace, only to have problems with bureaucracy. Yes, there is a time and place for a rigid structure with solid reporting lines. However, today’s world requires adaptability and creative problem-solving, which is tough, if not impossible, for a heavily bureaucratic company to navigate. Many companies are flat and nimble and have continued to grow and innovate, but pride and ego often get in the way of this change when the organization has grown with a heavy management load.
6. Inadequate Resources: Leaders who don’t allocate sufficient resources (time, money, talent) to innovation efforts can hinder progress. Cutting research, development, and training is easy when stockholders demand unreasonable profits and restrictions, but it will cost more when the river of new ideas and innovations stops. Adaptive leaders understand that there is a fine line between success and mediocrity when it comes to simultaneously improving market share and culture.
7. Lack of Collaboration: I have seen many articles lately that indicate that collaboration has become a detriment to company culture and innovation. However, innovation thrives in a collaborative environment, and leaders who discourage or fail to foster collaboration will hinder innovation. The difference boils down to how well the process is managed and empowered. If the leadership does not empower the stakeholders to make decisions and learn from their failures, the process is dead on arrival. The key is mentoring rather than micromanaging.
8. Complacency: Success can lead to complacency, causing leaders to become comfortable with the status quo and overlook opportunities for innovation. This happens too frequently in business when leadership has frantically been building the business, and when they get comfortable, they want to take a break and rest on their laurels. It may make sense, but the brief rest often extends too long. When new products are complex to develop, a company should have a plan that at least includes existing product or service reviews every five years. If they don’t, they will miss out on changes that make a difference in sustainability and growth.
9. Poor Communication: Leaders who fail to communicate the importance of innovation and employees’ role in it may not motivate their teams effectively. Transparent, genuine communication is lacking in many companies today. They fear saying the wrong things and upsetting the stockholders, stakeholders, or customers or, heaven forbid, all three.
10. Ignoring Customer & Stakeholder Feedback: Leaders who disregard the insights of customers or stakeholders will miss valuable opportunities for innovation that address real needs. No one person will have all the ideas for growth and innovation. How many “GREAT” ideas have fallen by the wayside because the market research was faulty or their processes could not adapt to the innovations, resulting in poor quality or poor service?
Successful innovation often requires a willingness to embrace change, take calculated risks, and foster a culture of creativity and collaboration within an organization. To succeed, it must be engrained in the organization’s culture. Every part of the organization must own a stake in the success of the products and services, or it will either just exist or die.
None of this happens overnight, nor is there a one-size-fits-all solution that can be picked off the shelf and applied in every business. It takes time, effort, sweat, discipline, collaboration, faith, and respect by and for every organization member. It must be driven home at the board level, within the stakeholder community, and with the clients or customers every day. When it becomes difficult, that is not the time to stop. Still, they have time to rethink approaches, reinvent processes and products, and continually communicate proactive and positive plans to all levels.