Why is Innovation so Difficult?

bulbMany times I have heard CEO’s and senior management lament that they are just not getting the return on their R&D investment that they expect. There are not enough breakthrough products or services that spawn significant new growth for the organization. The deficiency may not be with one’s R&D team or one’s Marketing team. The lack of clear direction from the top may be the reason you find few growth opportunities fighting their way to the top.

Middle management nixes ideas, guesses what their leadership expects and is often wrong. It is safer to not float opportunities to their leadership than present ones that will be viewed as not being consistent with that leadership’s vision for the company. Determining what the senior leadership wants for new products, services or industry segments and empowering middle management to promote these ideas is the REAL CHALLENGE.

To be successful and efficient an organization needs direction and boundaries. To channel an organization’s creative energy effectively these boundaries and directions need to be communicated and understood at all levels of the organization – it needs to be part of the DNA so to speak. If individuals and teams inside the organization are working on concepts that fall outside these boundaries, then these resources are being wasted and could be more effectively used on other activities. These individuals would find their work more satisfying if it were ultimately leveraged to further the interests of that organization.

The tough part for a CEO and her/his leadership team is to define these boundaries broadly enough but carefully, such that the creative opportunities that flow from the organization result in a higher number of projects in which the company invests that truly become successful in the marketplace. The toughest challenge is overcoming middle management’s inertia, its resistance to change, and its desire to kill projects that they perceive their boss will not approve.