Why Your Company Might Not Be Innovative

I was looking at a couple of releted blogs and found an excellent article about innovation. As a “professional techie,” innovation—especially that which can truly enhance our lives for the better—is near and dear to me. And of course, innovation is close to all of us at Barnes & Conti.

This article, entitled “Top Ten Reasons Why Your Company is Not Innovative” poses the question, “Are you wondering why everyone else in your industry is passing you by?” and lists ten very good reasons:

  1. Fear
  2. Money
  3. Know-how
  4. Corporate Bureaucracy
  5. Poor Leadership
  6. No Sharing of Information
  7. No Recognition
  8. Bottom Up Thinking
  9. Handcuffing Employees
  10. No Customer Input

I don’t want to quote the entire article (but please do follow the link and read it), but I do want to make space for two of the ten reasons:

3. Know-how: Many companies want to innovate. They are ready for change, but they don’t know where to begin. Hire employees that have been there before, or bring in a consultant to teach you the ways. Don’t stop there. After you learn how to create innovative ideas, implement them. There is nothing worse than a company that talks a lot about being innovative but does nothing to live it. As IBM says, “Stop Talking, Start Doing…”

8. Bottom Up Thinking: To foster innovation, it is better to work with a top-down approach. Look at the big picture. Create a vision of what you would like your business to be, and then start implementing strategies to get you there.

It occured to me that there is—or should be—an eleventh reason: a lack of a process to foster innovation. The two points I quoted above just scream “process, please!” Look at “Know-how”; if you don’t know where to begin, you need a process to help you. And “Bottom Up Thinking” looks like the start of a process to me: start with the big picture, create a vision, go from there and get more specific.

In fact, the more I look at the list, the more I see almost every reason fitting into an innovation process. Money problems? Include a budget as well as an estimate of additional profits in your process. Bureaucracy? Include executive buy-in in your process. Sharing of Information, Recognition, Customer Input, all of these could and should be included in your process.

As you probably know, David Francis, Ph.D. and our own Kim Barnes have developed a process for innovation management. The process uses the metaphor of a journey in five phases: Searching, Exploring, Committing, Realizing, and Optimizing. Here’s my shameless “plug” for this particular innovation process: I think that almost all ten reasons can be handled somewhere within the innovation journey.

Bottom-up thinking? No customer input? That’s what the Searching phase is about. We call it framing the inquiry and identifying opportunties. Do your employees feel handcuffed? Both the Searching and Exploring phases should help; in the former you hunt and gather ideas, in the latter you select the best of them. Are money and bureaucracy a problem? In the Realizing phase you influence stakeholders and allocate resources. The Realizing phase should also un-handcuff your employees, and provide for the flow of information. In the Optimizing phase you dole out recognition as well as learn from your mistakes.

I’d like to think that with innovative ideas and a good process to manage them, innovation won’t “pass you by.” Please watch this blog for more on innovation and innovation management.

—Joel Kleinbaum

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2 Comments on “Why Your Company Might Not Be Innovative

  1. I had an experience yesterday that made me long for some innovation in customer service – and reminded me that innovation requires empowerment. I purchased a home printer at Best Buy a week or so ago and was persuaded (OK, I’m cheap) to buy an “open box” – i.e., one that had been returned by a customer – but was assured that it had been checked and had the same warranty, etc., but cost $20 less. When I put it together at home, I discovered that half of the two-part power cord was missing. When I stopped by the store, I was told that they could not open another box to get the missing piece and that the only thing to do was to bring the whole thing back for an exchange. That was not the answer I wanted to hear, having spent some time setting it up and not wishing to lug the now boxless printer back to the store. Using all of my mighty influence skills – 😉 – I managed to get to the “customer service” manager (quotation marks are meant ironically, yes) and regardless of my approach was told some variant of “it’s company policy.” She said she could lose her job for opening another box – even though all she would do if I brought mine back was to return it to the manufacturer. I asked her – reasonably, I thought, why I had to do the work when she could just as well send that open box back after taking out the missing cord and giving it to me. You can guess what her response was. It certainly did not require anything of her to be bureaucratic, but instead of losing her job, she lost a customer. Any company that does not give a manager the power and flexibility to be creative in working with customers with a legitimate issue is unlikely to promote and support innovation at any level.

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