3 Innovation Killers in Companies


Innovation is good and that is something everybody is in agreement of. Most of us will agree that it is only through innovation that companies can grow, maximize profits and become market leaders. The example of Apple which has relied totally on innovative ideas over the last decade to experience great visibility and growth is there for everybody to see and even the skeptics would agree to that fact. Not only Apple but some of the strong Korean new companies like Hyundai, Samsung and LG have all been able to grow rapidly only because of their focus on innovation. Another wonderful example is that of Sony which has thrived on innovation all these years and is still going strong.

The question that arises is if innovation is indeed such a wonderful elixir for growth, what is stopping every company from pursuing it? Is it that people in various companies are stifled such that they are not able to show their enthusiasm and zest for coming out with innovative ideas? You are bang on! There are indeed such stifling inhibitors and we will cover the three main and most prevalent ones in the article below.

#1 Innovation Killer – The negative attitude

It has been tried before and we were not successful

This inhibitor has been a stumbling block for many companies over the years and has succeeded in having a crippling effect on companies. Though it is true to some extent, it is for the people and the company to realize that they cannot live in the past and have to look to the present and convince themselves that infinite ideas are tried out before that one idea does the trick. They should thus stop giving up hope and constantly strive to try out the next idea, forgetting the ones that did not work.

One prominent example is the microprocessor and the significance of innovation can be seen at its best here. Not many of us would have imagined the kind of applications that are now possible some years back when the microprocessors were of bigger dimensions. With these microprocessors becoming smaller and consuming less power, what was only in the realm of imagination like smart phones shown in the television series Star Trek has become a reality. In fact, the flip open communicating device shown in the series is now pretty common and used by many people.

So why is it that such ideas did not work earlier? The two main hurdles were the technology behind batteries and the capacity of cell towers to relay signals. As opposed to the communicators used in the Star Trek series, the smart phones of today can do a lot within a limited range and also require a good network of cell towers to pass signals.

The learning out of the above example is that changes in technology can make possible what one thought was impossible some years back and that is all the more reason to keep trying and having a go at innovation.
Since we all know that we are in a rapidly changing world and the rate of change is so dynamic and quick, people who resist this change are likely to miss opportunities as they present themselves and those who are open to such changes will grasp those opportunities to move ahead.

There are other examples that I could have chosen about how thanks to technological advancement, many gadgets that were inconceivable a few years back are now being used by all and sundry. These gadgets like the cell phones, laptops, remote controls, Wi-Fi and many others have come into play thanks to the big strides made in technology which has shrunk the size of the microprocessor and made it possible to reduce the dimensions of these gadgets. Just about a little over thirty years back, Ken Olson of the famous Digital Equipment Company remarked that it does not look like or seems feasible for anybody to possess a computer for home use. Of course, he was referring to the computers as they existed in that period and they were obviously too big to be thought of as practical for home usage.

For a better idea about the tremendous benefits of innovation and what kind of typical hurdles the process of innovation has to overcome, you are advised to read The Innovation Zone by Tom Koulopoulos.

#2 Innovation Killer – The resigned attitude

“I did try many times but since I could not achieve much, I am no longer going to try.”

Stories about how the legendary Thomas Edison finally managed to discover the light bulb after facing several failures is well known. His response to a reporter who asked him about how he felt about so many failures and why he did not just give up is very revealing. He mentioned that each of the 9000 odd failures told him what cannot work and he perceived those failures as learning lessons. So when he finally succeeded very close to the 10,000 attempt, he knew what could finally work and made his fantastic discovery.
The learning here is that you need to be persistent and should be able to take failures in your stride in order to achieve success in life and the path to success in innovation is no different.

The individual trying out innovation must believe in himself and remain committed to his ultimate objective – which is coming out with an innovation that has not been seen before. In the absence of such commitment, it would become very easy to give up and resign oneself to a lost cause.

Yet another hurdle to innovation lurking in many companies is complexity. This tends to accumulate and grow as employees in the company choose the easier and safer path to go about their tasks daily rather than trying out something different or trying to innovate. Complexity often seems quite harmless when it is first introduced in a couple of processes, product designs or a few customers or market locations.

However, this assumes greater significance and weaves its own gigantic web of difficulty as it is applied to more and more processes and markets. Then you will notice that employees are busy but achieving very little in terms of efficiency or productivity. Cost escalations take place and unfortunately do not show up immediately. These escalations only show up at the end of the accounting year through reduced profit margins. The employees become so busy dealing with day to day complexities involving processes, customer interactions, and product designs that they hardly have time to reflect and come out with any creativity or innovative thinking. Frenetic activity is mistaken for high productivity and even innovation when nothing can be farther from the truth.

#3 Innovation Killer – Complexity & Beaurocracy

Complexity thus has a very negative impact on a company and tends to inhibit and kill the enthusiasm, creativity of its employees thereby effectively killing any attempt at innovation.

Fortunately, complexity can be dealt with and even eliminated like you would cut off intruding vines in your garden. It is a myth that sales would plummet down due to this.

People need to be fresh and focused if they have to come out with creative ideas and once that happens, the sales graph will go up and customer satisfaction will improve. It has been observed that innovation can even lead to a drastic surge in sales and profit margins. It is complexity in everything that inhibits any creativity and leaves people with no time to think out of the box which is the basic mantra for coming out with anything innovative.

The learning here is that if you cannot manage complexity when you do find it, then you need to discard it as it can sap people of their creativity and focus on innovation.

Though it is important and necessary to weed out complexity, some companies have used it to become innovative and have taken full advantage of it.

One striking example is Amazon.com. Its complex ordering system enables it to keep adding more and more products on a regular basis and yet maintain its seamless method of transacting with customers. Similarly, Subway shops make use of more than fifty ingredients to make the best of meals and sandwiches in varied combinations to serve their customers and have been able to maintain their standards which in turn has enabled them to keep growing.

Some companies have discovered that they are better off discarding some of their products and exiting their less profitable businesses as it allows them to concentrate on their core business and help them provide greater customer satisfaction, which leads to better sales and profitability. Examples of companies which have benefitted due to novel ideas and innovations are names such as Wal-Mart, Ford, Sara Lee and several others. They have been able to get rid of complexity and make things simple. Any organization which does that can motivate its employees to come out with good ideas and that will only lead to good products or services.
You would have seen that once you are able to identify the above three inhibiting enemies for any innovation, it is quite easy to overcome them and come up as winners. So go ahead and try it out in your respective companies.