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10 Habits that Kill Innovation

10 Habits that Kill Innovation
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Innovative organisations promote creative thinking and a safe-to-fail environment by fostering the right organisational culture and supporting systems. Unfortunately, many organisations stifle the very innovation that they seek through ingrained habits that block creativity and risk-taking. In no particular order, here are 10 habits that choke disruption and kill innovation.

1. Saying “no but” instead of “yes and”

This is a terrific activity we promote among teams that have become too myopic about new ideas. Criticism has become the new norm, instead of encouraging creativity. In the wise words of innovation pioneer Peter Diamandis, “the day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea.”

Takeaway:  Testing potentially breakthrough ideas means not being afraid to fail. Understanding that failure is inevitable and a key contributor to success, is critical for achieving innovation.

2. Asking about ROI instead of ROF

Companies seeking innovation often make the mistake of focusing on return on investment (ROI) instead of the return on failure (ROF). Optimising failure can save companies millions of dollars.

Takeaway: Fearing failure leads to incremental rather than disruptive innovation.

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Read more for How to Optimise your Return on Failure (RoF).

3. Punishing mistakes and risk-taking

Leaders and companies that make a habit of vilifying failure, kill innovation. Instead, follow examples such as that of Tata Group, who reframed failure by creating the ‘Dare to Try’ award, which encourages the public sharing of lessons from worthy but unsuccessful innovation attempts.

Takeaway: Create opportunities for open communication about learnings and positively reinforce those who are trying new things. Managers that recognise and reward innovation motivate employees to be more innovative.

4. Staying super busy and keeping within your job description

Not providing employees with sufficient time for exploration and trying new things is a surefire way to ensure innovation never happens in your organisation. Innovation giants such as Google and 3M deliberately allocate time for employees to undertake passion projects, which has led to countless new innovations.

Takeaway: Employees should be encouraged and have the opportunity to be involved with innovation related activities. Innovation should be perceived as something that comprises their day to day responsibilities.

5. Keeping things competitive between departments

Nothing diminishes innovation like a lack of cross collaboration. Siloed departments that scurry to protect their people, information, budget, ideas and IP fail to foster an innovative culture. Holding inter-departmental hackathons and brainstorms are a good start.

Takeaway: Innovation often happens at the intersection of vastly different ideas. Create opportunities for different people and ideas to cross-pollinate.

6. Staying inside the building

Serial entrepreneur and founder of the Lean Startup movement, Steve Blank, touts ‘getting out of the building’ as a key to innovation and startup success. All too often, new products are developed inside an organisation’s laboratory and launched without first collecting any customer feedback.

Takeaway: Meeting potential customers and learning to understand what problems they are looking to solve in their lives is the best way to design a solution. This in turn increases the chance that the organisation will create products and services that people will actually want and pay for.

7. Leaders over-using the word ‘innovation’

Leaders who talk about innovation but fail to back it up with action, ultimately demotivate employees who become accustomed to hearing the buzz word. Although innovation tasks may be delegated, successful leaders nevertheless need to take ownership of innovation within their organisations.

Takeaway:  Rather than paying lip service to innovation, leaders should be supportive of new ideas and seek to remove barriers.

8. Create and insist on red tape

The path to innovation inside large organisation is often paved with intricate business cases and hoops to jump through. This is often before employees receive any budget to begin experimenting or prototyping new ideas. Instead, consider allocating a protected pool of funds for the purpose of experimenting on a number of ideas. This principle of placing numerous small bets is more likely to yield important insights about ideas and whether or not they should be progressed to a business case.

Takeaway: Save on time, money and heartache by giving employees the tools for experimentation. For inspiration on how this can be done, check out Adobe’s Innovation Kit.

9. Fearing ambiguity

Innovation comes from a place of not knowing the answers up front. While this usually makes people uncomfortable, it allows people to be more creative and pursue a myriad of ideas, which arrive at unexpected solution.

Takeaway: Embracing ambiguity is difficult but rewarding, it gives us permission to explore and be creative.

10. Falling in love with your idea

People have a tendency to become emotionally attached to their ideas. This is often true of senior executives vying for credit and seeking a memorable legacy to leave. Unfortunately, this often sends time, money and resources down a rabbit-hole towards poorly developed products and services.

Takeaway: Instead of focusing on the features of a proposed idea, focus instead on the opportunity at hand. There might be a very real customer problem, which can be solved best by getting out of the building (see #6) and may require deeper exploration into a number of viable solutions.

Workflow Podcast

The WorkFlow podcast is hosted by Steve Glaveski with a mission to help you unlock your potential to do more great work in far less time, whether you're working as part of a team or flying solo, and to set you up for a richer life.

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To help you avoid stepping into these all too common pitfalls, we’ve reflected on our five years as an organization working on corporate innovation programs across the globe, and have prepared 100 DOs and DON’Ts.

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Frances Goh

Frances is the General Manager of Innovation and Strategy at Collective Campus. She is an innovation consultant, brand strategist and customer champion.

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