Three Innovation Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

By Holly G. Green

When was the last time your company came out with a new product? What about a new way of working that resulted in meaningful cost savings or productivity increases? If you can’t remember (or you can remember but it’s been so long you don’t want to admit it) you may be stuck on one or more of these common innovation mistakes.

1. Confusing creativity with innovation.
Creativity involves coming up with new ideas, connections, and ways of looking at the world. Innovation is the process of turning those new ideas into products or services that add value to your target market. To turn creativity into innovation:

  • Get focused. Companies that consistently innovate tend to focus on one or two really good ideas at a time. They also have processes in place for testing, evaluating, and comparing ideas to ensure they pursue the best ones.
  • Make sure the innovation aligns with your strategy and organizational capabilities. If a potential innovation doesn’t align with these, it could require more people, money, and resources than you have available. It could also confuse rather than amaze and delight your customers.
  • Get the new product or service to market in a timely and profitable manner. Senior management must commit the time, money, and resources to make the innovation happen. Without their support, the innovation effort will go nowhere.

2. Not failing (some of the time).
If you’re not failing at all, you’re not pushing the envelope far enough to develop any meaningful innovation. The trick is learning how to manage and mitigate the risks so that one failure doesn’t wipe out the company or deplete all the available resources. This requires a process for evaluating the risks and making measured decisions based on the projected return on investment. Encouraging failure doesn’t mean to disregard risk or tolerate poorly planned disasters. But if all failure gets punished, promising ideas will never get off the ground.

3. Treating innovation like a quick-fix add-on.
Remember back in the ‘90s when everyone rushed to jump on the quality/process improvement bandwagon? What most forget is that not much happened until companies stopped treating quality as a bandaid approach and began making it a part of how they do business. It’s the same with innovation. To innovate on a consistent basis, you have to make it part of who you are and what you do.

Start by explaining why innovation is important and how it will help your organization win. Then focus on building a culture that encourages, supports, and nourishes innovation. Build diverse teams. Teach people how to think differently. Link individual effort to the big picture. Most of all, acknowledge and reward the behaviors that lead to successful innovation.

There’s more to innovation than not committing these mistakes. But avoiding them will put you much further down the road to successful innovation than companies that do.


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