Why Managers Fear Innovation

Why Managers Fear InnovationInnovation is a paradox for management. On the one hand you are well aware that you have to take new roads before you reach the end of the present dead end street. On the other hand it is risky. It takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of resources.

Research shows that only one out of seven innovation projects is successful. So saying yes to innovation is a step into the unknown. It creates fear of failure, which causes fear to innovate. It’s like sailing to the South Pole like Shackleton, where the surrounding ice can stop you any moment.

Management is under pressure in the business of today. And as an innovator you want them to shift money and resources to the business of tomorrow. On average it takes 18 – 36 months to develop a new concept, which often will only be profitable 2-3 years after introduction. So a lot of managers wait until not innovating is not an option anymore. We all are humans.

As innovator you can fight this risk adverse culture, as a kind of modern Don Quixote fighting windmills. Or you can accept it. Only when you accepted it, you can deal with it. Managing innovation has everything to do with managing expectations and reducing risks. I can give you five tips that might get you more support for innovative ideas.

1. Dogs bark at what they don’t know. So beware of this. Make clear in advance what kind of innovations they can expect (evolutionary improvements or revolutionary new to the world ideas).

2. Make clear “what’s in it for us”. So present your innovative ideas with a concrete case for new business showing estimates of sales and profit potential.

3. Make the feasibility clear. Can we make it? What will it cost?

4. Make clear there’s a market out there. Lead users and co-creation business-to-business partners are perfect advocates to prove there’s a potential market.

5. Let top managers join your innovation journey. In this way they can get new insights themselves. You can invite them on a structured innovation expedition called FORTH. Download the innovation expedition map here.

It all starts with accepting that it is normal that your top managers fear innovation. So think outside the box and present inside the box. Be innovative and act conservative.

image credit: fearful expression image from bigstock

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.

Gijs van Wulfen




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  1. Norman Edmanson on February 20, 2013 at 12:23 pm

    In 35 years experience in manufacturing in 6 industries and then 30 years mentoring senior managers and Directors I have not found many managers afraid of innovation at all. Far from it, good managers know that to be the best continuos improvement is not only necessary but is relatively easy.
    I wonder how much hands on sharp end experience is behind this statement?
    For 14 years I worked with one of the top UK Universities and while I met some top people there, there were others who had escaped from the real world and they were certainly not prepared to dip too deeply into the unknown.

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