The Innovation Nightmares

The Innovation NightmaresNot everything new is good. Just because it is new doesn’t make it right. And, of course, doing things first, is not necessarily all you need for success.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s almost always this unhealthy dose of cynicism about innovation efforts. It comes about because people have a history of being burned by new stuff before.

It is a nightmare scenario for anyone charged with genuine strategic change: no-one wants the change because they’re fearful it will be “like last time”.

There’s a simple reason for this: doing new stuff is hard, hard enough that it takes practice to get right.

But, of course, since it is new there’s no chance to practice. And since there’s no chance to practice, there’s no chance that you’ll get a decent execution.

Instead, you get some hodge-podge implementation that, if it were anyone else, you’d reject too.

The notion that brand new, genuine breakthroughs aren’t usually fit for purpose when they’re released is one of the core theme in my new book Sidestep and Twist. Usually, it takes time for organizations to get good enough at specific innovations they make much sense to their customers.

In the meantime, everyone who surrounds them looks on and sighs, and wonders what everyone was thinking when they authorised the project, and vows never to have anything to do with anything brand new again.

There’s an official academic-sounding term for all this, of course, and that’s “innovation trauma”: the situation which arises when, having been compromised once by an innovation gone wrong, individuals and organisations are more risk averse when confronted with innovation again.

My observation is that innovation trauma is not only common, it is the usual result of anything that’s genuinely off the beaten path people are used to.

Now, it would be tempting to just say, “oh, well then, we won’t do innovation at all, if we can’t do it well enough to succeed”, but really, this isn’t the answer.

What is the answer? I think it is to resist the urge to toss your brand-new thing out the door the moment you have it slightly working. To force yourself not to get some piece of it done and iterate the rest.  To not say “we’ll fix it in the next version”.

Brand new things come with enough risk and fear for adopters without them having to discover they’re under performing once they have adopted.

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The Innovation NightmaresJames Gardner is Chief Strategy Officer at Spigit and blogs at Innovator Inside on innovation practise in large organisations. He was formerly Chief Technology Officer at the UK’s largest public institution, after being Head of Innovation the UK’s largest bank.

James Gardner




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