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The Biggest Obstacle to Innovation in One Word

Editor's Note: Take a look at our featured best practice, Organization Design Toolkit (103-slide PowerPoint presentation). Recent McKinsey research surveyed a large set of global executives and suggests that many companies, these days, are in a nearly permanent state of organizational flux. A rise in efforts in Organizational Design is attributed to the accelerating pace of structural change generated by market [read more]

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no_signIt is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change. This wonderful quote of Leon C. Megginson is still so relevant in this fast changing world.

Trying to do things differently or to do different things within an organization is hard. Being an innovator is not an easy job. Especially when you’re innovating within a large organization (and you are not the boss) it is a long road.

At the start of innovation, you need to inspire and to convince a lot of people that it’s an attractive move for the company and has a high chance of success.

When you present your idea, new business case or new technology to others within your organization you will get reactions like:

  1. No, we have done it always this way…
  2. No, our customers won’t like that!
  3. No, we don’t have time for this…
  4. No, it’s not possible…
  5. No, it’s too expensive!
  6. No, let’s be realistic…
  7. No, that’s not logical…
  8. No, we need to do more research…
  9. No, there’s no budget…
  10. No, management won’t agree…
  11. No, the market is not ready yet…
  12. No, it might work in other places but not here…
  13. No, that’s way to risky…
  14. No, it doesn’t fit our strategy…
  15. No, that’s for the future…

The single biggest obstacle at the start of innovation in one word is: no.

Getting internal support for your innovative ideas, concepts, prototypes and business models is essential. Otherwise nothing happens. So be prepared for ‘the firing squad’ every innovator will meet on his/her way. In my early days in big corporate cultures I felt the resistance of others as a personal attack on my attempt to move the company really forward. I got too excited, too emotional, too upset and at the end of the day I was very disappointed in my company, my colleagues and myself. Then, when rationality came back, I stood up again and made a second attempt.

Innovation does not stop at the first ‘No’. That’s the moment it really starts!

As innovator you’re probably working in a pretty conservative organization. That’s why your position was created in the first place. Of course they’ll say ‘no’ to your innovation. What would you do if someone came up to you out of the blue, saying you have to do the things you do totally differently in the future? Or do totally different things. Innovation is always provocative by definition. I like to quote Einstein on this.

If at first the idea is not absurd, then there will be no hope for it. – Albert Einstein

So when others say ‘no’ to innovation, don’t take it personal. It is quite normal. I was confronted with a lot of “no’s” all the way through the stage-gate innovation process: from ideation to implementation. Once I got used to all the resistance to change and innovation and I knew I could expect it, I got much better in transforming the ‘no’s’ into a yes. I like to share with you five of my personal insights on how to prevent potential no’s to your innovative initiatives.

  1. Most people say yes to innovation only if doing nothing is a bigger risk. So be empathic and put yourself in your boss’s or CEO’s shoes if there is a real need for innovation. As Innovator in a larger organization you really need the patience of a hunter to wait for a shot that you’re sure you can make.
  1. You can invent on your own. But in an organization you can never innovate alone. A new initiative news a lot of fathers and mothers to survive a corporate culture. You need R&D engineers, production managers, IT staff, financial controllers, marketers, service people and salesmen to develop the product, produce it, get it on the market and service it. Therefore make innovation a real team effort from start to finish lead by a passionate innovation champion.
  1. Think outside the box and be sure to present your idea inside the box otherwise nothing will happen. As most of your superiors don’t want to run any risk, your chances to convince them rise when you present an innovative initiative as the next logical step to take. And not as the most revolutionary disruptive break-through to launch.
  1. As innovator you should bring back new business not new ideas. Innovation for most people is a way to get somewhere. Bring back a mini new business case: What will it bring us? At what levels of turnover and profit margin? For what target group? Why would customers buy it? Here’s a format for a mini new business case to download.
  1. The voice of the customer is your best support for a new concept. Connect customers as early as possible to your innovation project. Let them test concept statements of your new product or service and (in a later stage) prototypes. Use their enthusiast responses to convince the Naysayers in your organization to prioritize your innovation project.

Remember: real innovators never give up!

P.S. What’s the biggest obstacle to innovation in one word in your opinion?

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About Gijs van Wulfen

Gijs van Wulfen (1960; Dutch) is a keynote speaker on innovation and the founder of the FORTH innovation method, a proven structured way to ideate new products, services and business models. He is a LinkedIn Influencer with more than 260,000 followers worldwide and he was chosen in the top 10 of the International Top 40 Innovation Bloggers 3 years in a row. He is a best selling author on innovation with his latest book titled "The Innovation Expedition: A Visual Toolkit to Start Innovation."

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