Taking the NO out of InNOvation

10 NO’s Blocking Business Innovation

by Mike Brown

Taking the NO out of InNOvationFrom experience and ongoing research, there are fairly common situations Blocking Business Innovation across companies. No business has all of them, but the presence of just a couple of them will scuttle the most modest dreams of bringing new possibilities to life to benefit others.

None of these NO’s are insurmountable, so it’s important to understand what causes each of them and some steps to take to navigate around them and get innovation going.

1. NO Knack for Innovation

There simply isn’t an orientation toward innovation. It may be a mature industry, a company that’s had success with an intense focus, one that’s grown through M&A, or has been burned on previous formal innovation efforts. Whatever the reason, innovation doesn’t appear to be in the company’s DNA.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Challenge conventional wisdom that says innovation isn’t vital to the company.
  • Target introducing small doses of unconventional strategy to begin.
  • Introduce ways to look at the business differently.
  • Try to borrow and adapt proven ideas from other industries or markets.

2. NO Direction

Without a top-level mandate, it’s tough for an innovation-oriented culture to flourish. Could be that innovation is outside the company’s vision, there’s no upper management champion, or a lack of alignment stands in the way of innovation efforts.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Create focus on the fundamental question – “What is the company trying to achieve?” – to figure out what matters and how innovation might fit.
  • Simply articulate (or at least help do so) what the vision is for innovation.
  • Consider starting small – don’t worry about big ideas; focus on enough ideas to sort through and find winners.
  • Or consider starting big – even if you don’t get there, you’ll do more than you would have otherwise.
  • Make sure to have someone challenge your grand plan.

3. NO Rocking the Boat

There’s an unmistakable signal from management (whether it’s uttered directly or not): “If it isn’t broken, don’t mess with it. We’re not interested in risk taking; let’s just maintain the status quo.” These messages make it clear that good things don’t await those interested in exploring new approaches or trying to do things in different ways.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Focus on progress within the current model; it won’t even feel like the boat is moving, let along rocking.
  • Determine how you can influence the business direction without anybody even realizing it.
  • Look for problems or mini-crises (or maybe even big crises) that will force considering changes in how things are done.
  • Look for competitors on the horizon that may seem distant, yet can be formidable threats.
  • Challenge the business to take on “uncomfortable” ideas.

4. NO Talent Pool

The company may have convinced itself the right people aren’t in place to make innovation happen. It could be a perceived lack of “creatives” or “outside the box” thinkers. More likely though, it’s a failure to get people with diverse perspectives together and let them work. It’s more about diverse talent not working together than not having the right talent in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Begin to cultivate strategic thinking skills among your team and anyone else you can influence within your company.
  • Actively work to broaden and diversify who is brought into strategic thinking and innovation work.
  • Look for experts (even unlikely ones) inside and outside the company available to help.

5. There’s NO Tomorrow

This NO springs from the conviction things will be won or lost in the short term, so there’s little need for long term development. Or it may be there’s no patience for protracted realization of opportunities. If it’s going to be pursued, it needs to be developed and start paying out by the next quarter. With the current economic environment, this sentiment could be more prevalent than ever.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Use a solid process for how you think through challenging situations, addressing short term pressures while being mindful of the future.
  • Try to manage around strategic whims within the business; sometimes, that’s best done by letting them pass.
  • Go to school on the best thinking regarding how to manage innovation during challenging business conditions.

6. NO Resources

As with a “no tomorrow” view, lowered interest in applying resources to innovation may be more acutely felt right now. The absence of specific resources can be broad, including management attention, available time, and investment dollars. Without these vital inputs, innovation stalls or never takes off in the first place.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Take a hard look at what adds value and what doesn’t for areas to prune from the business.
  • Narrow your activities and free up potential innovation resources by developing a “stop doing” list of low value or off strategy activities to halt.
  • Demonstrate a willingness to be innovative in your approach – how can you introduce and implement new, high-impact ideas with no resources?

7. NO Motivation to Innovate

Something’s lacking that dampens an internal drive to innovate. It could be an environment that doesn’t promote cooperation, no opportunity to receive credit for your effort, or a lack of other meaningful incentives to bring ideas forward and develop them. The net result is that innovation isn’t happening as naturally as it might.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Understand the political fray inside the business and how you can use it to your advantage in securing cooperation and active participation from vital parties.
  • Cultivate an informal team, if necessary, of like-minded individuals to help trigger innovation.
  • Share ALL the credit. In fact, give away ALL the credit so you can make stars of those whose help you’ve enlisted.
  • Be attuned to subtle forms of censorship and protect your innovation team from both internal and external threats.

8. NO Process

There are instances where innovation appears to emanate naturally from within an organization. Chances are though that it’s been cultivated and developed through a process, even if it’s a relatively small scale and informal one. Without some type of planning and organized means to realize innovation, barriers and bureaucracy can easily block new ideas from coming to fruition.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Employ some type of structured process to collect or generate ideas. Make sure your approach and effort tie back to fundamental business objectives.
  • Work toward a bigger pool of ideas from which to narrow, prioritize and pursue certain ones for implementation.
  • Use structure liberally to provide people a means to contribute to ideation, a way to share their perspectives, and a path for implementation.

9. NO Implementation Success

Intriguing ideas and concepts are cool, but only have value ultimately if they lead to successful implementation and deliver benefits for the intended audience. There are various roadblocks to successful implementation, including flaws in how ideas are recommended, prioritized, developed, and marketed to target audiences. With all those potential challenges, it’s a wonder anything new actually takes place!

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • “Rehearse” the process you’ll use to quickly prototype, justify, recommend, develop, test, roll out and troubleshoot ideas to increase your likelihood of implementation success.

10. No Measures

It’s difficult to sustain formal innovation efforts without metrics in place to show ROI or even general positive improvement. Even earlier in the process, the absence of metrics makes identifying and prioritizing innovation opportunities a shot in the dark. Simply put: no metrics = no hope of long term innovation.

What Are Some Things You Can Try?

  • Determine an overall framework to measure innovation with a variety of metric types.
  • Develop whole-brain metrics, i.e. both quantitative and qualitative metrics to track performance.
  • Establish a way to revisit unsuccessful implementations to learn from them and apply the lessons to subsequent efforts.

All the best to you in addressing the specific NO’s you face at work that stand in the way of InNOvation.

If you’d like more information on exploring the personal perspectives you need to approach you whole life more innovatively, you can download an eBook version of “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” from Slideshare. It’s a great companion on your mission to bring innovation to life!

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Mike BrownMike Brown is an award-winning innovator in strategy, communications, and experience marketing. He authors the BrainzoomingTM blog, and serves as the company’s chief Catalyst. He wrote the ebook “Taking the NO Out of InNOvation” and is a frequent keynote presenter.

Mike Brown




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