Why do most innovation programmes fail?

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

Here are a few things most companies do.

Organise Innovation & Creativity workshops.
Form an Innovation task force
Start an idea scheme asking for ideas from employees
Invite well-known celebrities and authors who have published books on innovation to address the leadership team
Include innovation in the organisation transformation initiative
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 become a reality it has to overcome many hurdles.

Here are a few big ones.

People do not know how to articulate their idea clearly. Surprising but true. What people think and what they say is often different. Very few people have the ability to share their ideas in a simple, easy to understand manner.
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?
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.
In many cases, people do not know how to convert a new idea into a project.
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 the 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *