Why innovation loses steam


Innovation is exhausting. If it weren’t, innovation would be continuous and prolific across enterprises. But this is usually more the exception than the rule. Even when innovation is a part of the corporate culture, the ability to maintain the energy level for continuous creative disruption is a major challenge. It can be like waking up at 6 a.m. to go to CrossFit every morning.

The problem is that as soon as a groundbreaking new product or process is launched to the market, the competition is obsessed about neutralizing the effort. The high fives and product launch party are typically short-lived when the first complaint about or resistance to the innovation comes from sales via customers.

Add to this that everyone needs a rest after months of politicking, budget reforecasting, late night programming and field testing. Oh, and then there’s a matter of getting back to your “regular” job after months of diversions.

Innovation loses steam.

Smaller startups tend to have the agility and lack of bureaucracy to build an ongoing innovation mantra. However, because their staffs tend to be smaller, their innovation team tends to be “on the field” longer, creating fatigue and diversions from other mission-critical projects.

Some larger organizations have the ability to pour more resources into dedicated high performance innovation. But most larger enterprises still look at creativity as happening in smaller grassroots pockets, and these can easily fall victim to bureaucratic micromanagement and oversight.

Having been part of such painfully scrutinized skunkworks teams, the statement, “We’re never going to do THAT again,” is typical.

There are some pretty basic reasons why innovation has no momentum or continuity in enterprises of all sizes.

Formal risk/reward structures are nonexistent

Many of the innovation teams in enterprises are driven by a desire to be part of change in the organization. Or in some cases it’s the fear of missing out (FOMO) from being where the action is.  The fact of volunteering as a member of the team in a way inoculates contributors from downside risk in the eyes of their management.  The reward is hinged on “constructive narcissism,” which in many cases is more than more money can buy. But the rewards tend to be a contact high of sorts, considering that the volunteers typically need to get back to their regular work after this deployment.

My experience is that systems where the risk/reward structure for innovation is more formally embedded into the corporate culture can create a more continuous flow of creativity. These systems incorporate new “feel free to fail” compensation rewards for trying to incubate innovation at the everyman level as opposed to pockets of a selected few.

Waiting at the deli counter

One of the major innovation asphyxiators is waiting. I use the analogy of waiting for your number at the deli counter, which I see as being no different than waiting for an internal service organization to keep the creative momentum going.

Agile innovators don’t want the speedbump of waiting for their number to be called. They need the equivalent of agile service similar to preordering deli items that are then prepared in advance by a person who only services fast lane customers.

The innovation godfather

Lastly and perhaps most important, is that high velocity innovation teams need a C-level godfather. In order to be effective, some custom about rules of engagement, internal processes or traditional corporate etiquette will be broken. Clients will be brought into the disruptive creativity process when that may never happen in a traditional sales setting.

Internal service organizations will need to be informed by the godfather that if they can’t provide the agile and timely service needed, new suppliers will be contracted that can. The innovation teams need permission to have the words, “We just can’t do that now,” extracted from the vocabulary.

So how does your enterprise avoid having the steam taken out of innovation? Do you have a deli or a godfather?















  1. […] is very easy for innovation to lose steam, especially after a major innovation breakthrough. People are intellectually and physically […]

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