Here’s Why Many Innovation Initiatives Fail

Here’s Why Many Innovation Initiatives FailWouldn’t it be great if you could do customer service like Zappos? Or design like Apple? Or innovation like 3M?

Who wouldn’t want to be like those firms?

Well, it’s not so simple.

Barry Dalton wrote an excellent post called You Can’t Be Zappos (and why would you want to be?) addressing exactly this issue. His main point is that the entire Zappos business model is built around delivering awesome customer service – and that unless you build your entire business model around this as well, you won’t have Zappos-level service. And furthermore, Dalton argues that you shouldn’t want to do so – the says:

“So, instead of trying to be like Zappos, how about try this first. Stop. Stop and think about your customers. What problems do they have with your business model? What customer issues are you trying to solve? Then, build a customer experience strategy that addresses that.”

He’s exactly right.

Zappos is Zappos because they’re built to deliver awesome customer service. You can’t just bolt Zappos-style customer service onto an existing business model. To deliver it, your hiring needs to be organised around service, so do your partnerships, your value proposition, your revenue model, and (very importantly!) your cost structure.

Same deal with delivering design like Apple or innovation like 3M.

This is why many innovation initiatives fail – they are just bolted onto an existing business model that isn’t built for and can’t accommodate them.

Here’s Why Many Innovation Initiatives Fail

You can’t just tack on 20% time and get the same results with it that 3M and Google do – you need all the supporting systems in place too. You can’t look at Procter & Gamble’s Connect and Develop and just replicate that – it took P&G about 6 years to get the system in place and operating the way that they wanted it to.

You can’t add “Innovation” to your company values and then tell the middle managers to go figure out how to do it.

It’s relatively easy to add any of the innovation tools that you see elsewhere – but making them work is another matter entirely. Making an innovation initiative work requires a change in behaviour. This is what makes business model innovation such an effective tool – it’s really hard to duplicate!

Most of our innovation initiatives fail because organisations add in the tools, but they don’t change the behaviour. We fail to empower the people that have to make the new ideas work. We don’t build a culture of experimentation. We forget to build learning into our build-launch loops, so it’s not an iterative process.

We fail to really commit to making our organisations more innovative by failing to change the way we manage.

If you want to buck this trend, and make your innovation initiative successful, you could do a lot worse than following Dalton’s advice.

Find a genuine problem, then build a business model around solving it. If you integrate innovation into this, then your odds of success just went up.

image credit: rejected idea image from bigstock

Don’t miss an article (4,950+) – Subscribe to our RSS feed and join our Innovation Excellence group!

Join the global innovation community

Tim KastelleTim Kastelle is a Lecturer in Innovation Management in the University of Queensland Business School. He blogs about innovation at the Innovation Leadership Network.

Tim Kastelle




Four ways you can ensure employees take accountability for their work

By Hubert Day | April 5, 2023

One of the most important driving factors for any successful business is a high-performing team. Having people working for you…

Read More

What is digital upskilling and why is it important?

By Hubert Day | February 15, 2023

            Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash In a world of business that never stands…

Read More

No Comments

  1. Massimiliano Mellone on December 2, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    “Most of our innovation initiatives fail because organisations add in the tools, but they don’t change the behaviour”.

  2. mauricio geraud on January 22, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    Well, if you are copying, you are not really innovating, are you?

Leave a Comment