Why do most innovation programmes fail?

What do companies do when a new boss says “Innovation has to be part of our DNA”? Uphill Glenna Barlow

Here are a few things most companies do.

1. Organise Innovation & Creativity workshops.

2. Form an Innovation task force

3. Start an idea scheme asking for ideas from employees

4. Invite well known celebrities and authors who have published books on innovation to address the leadership team

5. Include innovation in the organisation transformation initiative

6. Send senior managers on a learning trip around the world to capture key insights

I know a few organisations that have done all these and have succeeded. I know a few other organisations that have done all these and yet have nothing to show. I also know of some organisations which have done none of these but succeeded.

My former boss and mentor Mr S R Ayer (former Managing Director of Ogilvy & Mather India) used to say “You do not get results from laudable intent. You get results from focused action.”

What do organisations that have succeeded in making “Innovation a part of the DNA”, do differently?

They  have meticulously planned and taken care of the last mile in making innovation a part of their DNA.

Great ideas do not seem to be a problem. There are many people with outstanding ideas. However for an idea to to become a reality it has to overcome many hurdles.

Here are a few big ones.

1. People do not know how to articulate their idea clearly. Surprising but true. What people think and what they say are often different. Very few people have the ability to share their ideas in a simple, easy to understand manner.

2. People do not know how to make a case for their idea. What is good about their idea, what are its potential benefits and what could be some practical issues that must be tackled.

3. Decision makers do not know how to respond to ideas (especially a new one) in a positive, constructive way. They end up killing ideas with cliches or forcing their own angles.

4. In many cases people do not know how to convert a new idea into a project.

5. The most important issue is that people do not know what behaviours must change across all hierarchies to make Innovation a part of the DNA.

Behaviour change experts will tell us that training programmes and workshops can at best open our minds. To act on what is learnt is left to the individual manager. Innovation and creativity have a large glamorous angle attached to them. However  the tough issue is changing behaviour on ground that can nurture new ideas and make innovation happen.

Most innovation programmes fail because organisations do not equate ‘making innovation a part of the DNA’ with changing the behaviour of people at all levels.

Till this happens most innovation programmes are destined to fail.

The question is who is to bell the ‘innovation behaviour change cat’?

“Are you not to be accused of this crime? You make a living out of running workshops but do nothing at the ground level.” As usual Prasna* came straight to the point.

“Yes, Prasna. That is why I am focusing more on coaching and not just the workshops.”

Is it working?”

“My clients and I are beginning to see a difference. We know we are on the right track.”

Good luck. You know the last mile is always the difficult one.”

*Prasna Rao is an unusual friend. He appears every time I start writing something. He is almost always there when I am writing my blog. He asks questions that are razor sharp and often makes me uncomfortable. He is relentless till I answer his questions in simple, clear terms. You might find that he is most of the times asking questions that you want to. Therefore he is on your side, while he is putting me in the dock. I call him my Uninvited Coach

**Photo Courtesy Glenna Barlow Under Creative Commons License



Any Thoughts?

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12 Responses to “Why do most innovation programmes fail?”

  1. Raja Atmamayan says:

    Dear Sridhar,

    Cracked the pot….

    There is a Zen saying

    “If you know something, you cannot change….
    If you know everything, you cannot change….”

    Transformation is not something about “knowing”, but it has to become the “being”. Knowing is essential, to start something at least one must know… but it is not all. It is only the first step.

    People get carried away by their “knowing”, and get a feel that “they have transformed”…. But this is only a feel and not real transformation. Idea is an intellectual phenomenon and everyone with knowledge is capable of that. But to implement those ideas, it takes more than the person he/she is. The individual need to be transformed to gear up for the implementation of the ideas.

  2. Innovation mission is very delicate and a very different type of initiative. More it has to be viewed from the culture, mindset, participation and penetration rather than administrative matter. Many times, the crux is lost because of administrative angle and boring review mechanism.

  3. anand parekh says:

    Sridhar ,simplicity and clarity of communication is what makes your writings catchy to read ;am sure you have been told of this by many !

    fully agree with many points covered !

    However, I also feel that when organisations announce”innovation has to be a part of our DNA ” ,many of them genuinely mean “behavioural change ” as the integral part of the process ! Yes ,but where it derails is ( because the process of behavioural change is top-down ) where the individual manager/senior’s belief/attitude/passion for the same .And ,I guess ,in good organisations ( where innovation does become part of DNA ) it is the passion of the top –maybe 5% of the top–which make it a movement across the organisation !!!

    • R Sridhar says:

      You have hit the nail on head Anand.
      Time and again we see things derailing
      only because the passion and the belief
      is missing.

      Therefore everything becomes a cliche.
      Like “Innovation in our DNA” has become.

  4. nagesh alai says:

    Good analysis, simply put.

    But the real issue is DOKDOE – there is NO Dearth of Knowledge, but THERE IS Dearth of Execution.

    People’s behavioural changes have to come from within and cannot be done through workshops except as a facilitation.

  5. Archana Bhingarde says:

    Dear Sir,

    Great Article. Innovation is must for every organisation to grow and sustain. Situations, mindset, everything around us keep changing Can you suggest us about how to convert great ideas into projects.


  6. R Gowthaman says:

    Actually, Innovation must be treated seriously. And it must be made clear that it grows the topline – the only number anybody is interested. When you tell the board, this innovation will grow your business by 10%, automatically every body in the system will rally back – to my mind, whatever is that %age big or small, innovation must lead to a topline growth.

    • R Sridhar says:

      G’Man, absolutely. If Innovation is treated as an extra-curricular activity (will do it when I get time), no one will take it seriously. That is another important reason why innovation programs fail. There is no relevance to business strategy or outcomes. It is not on the CEO Agenda nor is it part of the mandatory review system. So as the cliche goes what is not measured does not get done. Again obvious, but overlooked!

  7. Uday Kagal says:

    Actually 90% of innovations do fail (I too have heard that and it is too much of a coincidence that you have too!).

    But the reason they fail is that insights are often retro-fitted to ideas or products, which makes the ideas superficial & easily replicable. These do not provide sustainable differentiation.

    The thing about innovation is: unless you think differently, you cannot act differently.

    • R Sridhar says:

      Thanks Uday. Can’t agree with you more.
      I am talking about programmes well thought of but not well planned, hence badly executed.
      The last mile is the critical issue. This can happen even if you had an excellent insight.

      I have seen good innovation programs start well but fail because the people down the line do not know what to do, where to go or whom to talk to, when something goes wrong.


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