In 2023, most companies don’t need to be convinced that innovation is important.
Countless examples show that organizations who don’t focus on innovation quickly get left behind.
However, innovation is a pretty broad field, and the product sector is still a long way from perfecting it. As a product innovation studio, we repeatedly see the same misconceptions harming progress.
In this article, we’ll explore the 8 most serious innovation mistakes, and give you expert tips to prevent them.
The 8 most common corporate innovation mistakes
Mistake 1: ‘Ideas, ideas, ideas’
A lot of organizations are falling at the first hurdle by focusing solely on generating ideas, without giving enough thought to execution and management. You can have a stellar product department coming up with hundreds of great ideas, but if you don’t pay attention to the big picture, and create a storm-proof action plan, they won’t get much further than the drawing board.
Avoid it by: Creating a balanced innovation strategy
Any effective strategy must incorporate not only the idea stage, but the essential next steps:
- Collaboration – working as a team to bring the idea to life, breaking down silos, and making sure everyone is aligned with the company’s strategic vision.
- Planning – outlining the stages of idea execution and adapting these to the company’s objectives
- Risk management – acknowledging possibly obstacles for this idea, and deciding to what extent they can be accepted and/or mitigated
Just remember: Innovation + Plan + Action = Success.
Mistake 2: ‘digital technology = innovation’
One of the most dangerous errors corporate leaders make is confusing innovation with technology, specifically digital technology. With the tech sector advancing at breakneck speed, companies often get sidetracked trying to be the next trailblazer with the most advanced science, and forget the purpose of the product itself.
Technology alone is not innovation. Technology facilitates innovation.
Avoid it by: Starting with the problem
Technology is just one aspect of the idea match between a problem and a solution. By allowing time and budget for a thorough discovery phase, you get a 360º view of the problem, before working out where the technology fits in.
The act of innovation is figuring out how technology solutions can help solve a real business problem.
Mistake 3: ‘Innovation means brand new ideas’
Surprisingly, the myth of reinventing the wheel is still persistent in the product sector. Too often, the response that ‘it’s already been done’ cuts down potentially profitable ideas before they have a chance to be developed.
When we consider the hard evidence, it’s clear that very few of the most successful companies of the past few years were based on a brand new idea, but on the combination and improvement of old ones.
Look no further than the smartphone industry as an example of how technology can be improved and adopted by customers over time, settling into a well-defined set of characteristics.
How to avoid it: Recognize what’s working… and what isn’t
As Chris Guillebeau, author of "The $100 Startup", explains, a successful business idea isn’t based on passion alone. It’s the intersection of the creator’s passion and what’s actually valuable and desirable for customers.
To successfully innovate, we have to realistically assess the current market and identify unmet needs. We can then decide to incorporate elements of existing ideas, as well as mixing in exciting new concepts.
Mistake 4: ‘Innovation is obvious’
Simply throwing together a group of the brightest brains and giving them time and money to innovate does not guarantee results. (Remember Google Plus?)
The process of innovation capitalization and exploitation goes through unpredictable cycles. Groundbreaking concepts can become obsolete fast.
How to avoid it: Take a comprehensive approach and embrace failure
Innovation requires a complex combination of fresh perspectives, solid strategy and radical thinking. The key is embracing design transformation throughout the organisation, and building this type of thinking into everyday company culture. Employees must feel safe to experiment boldy, without fear of failure.
Mistake 5: ‘innovation must be bottom-up’
Corporate leaders traditionally follow one of two innovation models:
In this method, leadership focuses on redefining the mission and values of the organization and pushes the changes down to the rest of the organization.
Ideas originate from employees, often through their day-to-day operations.
In recent years, a lot of progressive companies have focused on bottom-up methods, and it’s easy to see why. It’s true that the people on the ‘front line’ are often best placed to recognize new opportunities.
However, ignoring the top can leave innovation directionless – teams might be correctly identifying innovative ideas, but if they’re not in line with the company vision and objectives, they won’t translate into successful projects. Aside from negatively affecting results, this can lead to demotivation long term, when employees don’t see their ideas put into action.
How to avoid it: The best of both worlds
The secret that a lot of companies haven’t yet discovered is that successful innovation is a multi-direction process, not an either/or. Both top-down and bottom-up initiatives are essential.
By starting with clear innovation objectives and well communicated purpose from the top, employees are better equipped to filter and focus their creativity. They then put forward more defined ideas that trigger incremental innovation from the bottom-up.
Household names like Apple, Netflix and Spotify are all great examples of what’s possible when staff are given creative freedom but anchored by a strong company culture and vision.
Mistake 6: ‘Great innovation opens new markets instantly’
Even if you’ve identified an exciting opportunity, it doesn’t mean early adopters will be flooding in to buy your product. Innovation requires education.
This involves explaining the innovation and its benefits to both the company's staff and potential customers.
How to avoid it: Removing siloes and playing the long game
You may have noticed by now, we’re not fans of siloes. Interdepartmental collaboration is a fundamental in creating a seamless path through product development, launch and marketing.
And remember - marketing isn’t a one-and-done deal. It’s a continuous effort and needs to be integrated into product strategy rather than an independent task.
Mistake 7: ‘All you need is a solo genius’
We’ve all been part of that team where a particular outsized personality gets more limelight. And it’s true that all organizations need pioneers. The mistake is when organizations overly rely on one person to generate all of their creativity.
Innovation is not solely the product of individual intelligence, but of collaboration between different disciplines and backgrounds.
How to avoid it: Fostering "collective creativity"
True innovation is a meeting of minds, which requires the ability to give and receive feedback freely. While marvellous minds might spark the process, standards and structure play an important role in allowing innovation to scale and reach a wider audience.
Mistake 8: ‘Open innovation is an easy option’
Since Henry Chesborough officially coined the term in 2003, the open innovation philosophy has been the default for any forward thinking company. A rejection of the old closed innovation model that meant innovation projects stayed strictly inside the R&D department, open innovation simply means sourcing ideas from external sources. This can take many formats, from intracompany, like Facebook’s famous hackathons, to public facing, such as the Lego Ideas platform.
However, open innovation is a discipline that requires effort, cost, and planning. Processing the new information and bridging the gaps between different input sources can require new roles, new strategies and new technology.
It also takes time and persuasion to be fully embraced by everyone – the ‘not invented here’ mentality is still a recurring problem when it comes to accepting crowdsourced or co-created ideas.
How to avoid it: Education, education, education
To make open innovation successful, it is important to take a systematic approach, involve the right people, and get support from the higher-ups.
Through data and strong examples, it’s not hard to demonstrate the benefits:
- Increased innovation success rates
- Access to experts in new fields
- Improved internal collaboration
- A more innovative research culture
- More agility to squeeze all of the juice from available resources
If you can make key members of your team advocates for the methodology, you’ll see exponential benefits long term.
Stuck with corporate innovation? How to reset and get back on track
As we’ve seen through these 8 mistakes, successful innovation is often a combination of old and new ideas, adapted and put together in a new way. Most importantly, it won’t work without the support and buy-in of all stakeholders in the organization.
When stuck on innovation, corporate organizations often look for a ‘saviour’ figure, whether that’s an external guru, or an expensive new hire. What you actually need is a skilled facilitator to bring a fresh perspective.
There are two ways to achieve this:
- Calling on an innovation consultant who can bring a fresh perspective, using tried and tested processes to bring out the best in teams and shine a light on the ideas that have the most potential.
- Training an in-house innovation champion in the skills to implement a permanent shift in company culture, through a shared language, and reusable innovation tools and recipes.
Either way, an investment in innovation is an investment in results.