Hidden obstacles for innovation: Invisible barriers within the innovation process
The innovation process seems to be organized perfectly: Structures, responsible people and functional interfaces are set. Innovation management should function perfectly but something holds projects back or keeps high potential projects from getting started in the first place.
- “We observe that our competition realizes ideas quicker than we do. We would like to know the reasons for that.”
- “Our innovation portfolio currently mainly consists of incremental improvements. Does that suffice? Are we prepared for future challenges?”
- “Some of our development units seem to process innovation better than others. Why is that?”
- “We have many innovative and extensive ideas but most of them are being eliminated at some point. Are they just poor ideas or is our culture of innovation to blame?”
- “Many of our innovation projects sound promising but they often fail the moment we try to launch them. Why is that?”
In numerous studies on business innovation, we identified four clusters of hidden obstacles for innovation. During our work and interviews with experts from more than 200 corporations ever since then, we have been able to identify innovation barriers that drastically affect a company’s innovation capability.
Inflexible processes, rigid hierarchies and time consuming decision-making only support a certain kind of innovation projects, while slowing down others. The same structures that make highly complex incremental innovation developments manageable are structures that hinder radical innovation. There are various reasons: a concept is not perfect yet, a project seems a little vague in the beginning or the market demands a higher pace or more dynamics. Established systems of innovation controlling have a hard time identifying structural barriers because they tend to ignore different degrees of innovation.
Different hierarchy levels and different departments perceive the innovation strategy differently. Opinions about which innovations are important and which are not relevant tend to diverge widely. The top management for example might be convinced that the sustainability of the innovation strategy was sufficiently communicated, while executive personnel of the second and third level took a wait-and-see attitude to the subject. R&D defines innovation as technological process, whereas other departments might define innovation as offering innovative solutions or even innovative marketing positioning. Perception barriers lead to frictional losses within the corporation which makes innovation processes rather stolid.
They hinder interdisciplinary cooperation beyond the corporation’s boundaries. Though it is known that informal networking with different departments can be very inspiring, corporations have a hard time assessing the value of networks of this kind. How well do departments cooperate on an informal level? How well developed are networks to other corporations, research institutions and universities? If those exist: does the corporation truly benefit from this informal communication structure? The analysis and evaluation of such communication structure is what could increase a corporation’s innovation ability short-notice.
These barriers reduce the number of proactive actions by employees. Conducting in-depth interviews we were given the opportunity to investigate these barriers closely. Very often the wrong incentives are created, the buildup of teams happens under false assumptions, and the surrounding conditions lead to a situation in which even highly creative employees cannot exploit their full potential.
Innolytics® supports companies to overcome innovation barriers
- To collaborate on ideas and therefore being able to overcome structural barriers;
- To realize the potential of a corporation’s creative strengths;
- To overcome obstacles for successful innovation;
- To develop successful innovation strategies.