Innovation Is Great, As Long As It’s Not Overdone

No matter how much you may try to lower the risk inherent in innovation (you know…the old risk-reward continuum), innovating is risky business.

The payoff, if there is any, comes somewhere in the indefinite future. That’s why, in spite of the business world’s insistence on innovating their way out of the middle of the pack, most organizations go about innovating in a half-hearted manner.

The business world, unfortunately, is largely about reaping profit here and now. “ROI” can’t happen soon enough, especially for public companies. This tendency to require a near-instantaneous payoff is a relatively recent reversion to failed business philosophies, such as “benevolent exploitation” of resources and “what’s good for General Motors”, fueled by mistaken beliefs such as “things – and people – are different now”, or what some call “hubris”.

Companies with that mindset – the culture of adopting best practices…the culture of resisting change because it’s difficult and fraught with uncertainty…the preference for acquisition over innovation because it lowers certain risks and yields profits sooner[1] – invariably suppress creativity. Creativity and innovation require a different outlook, a different culture, and different leadership from what most organizations[2] are accustomed to. This does not mean that innovation can and will never happen in most organizations.

It’s mainly a question of whether visionary leadership is allowed. That visionary leadership has to build trust, patience, and persistence throughout the organization. Instead of “failure is not an option”, failure must be an acceptable option.

Of course, we’re not talking about ultimate failure of the enterprise, but we are talking about how making a mistake cannot be an occasion for finding and firing the guilty parties. We are talking about continual, iterative improvement through experiencing and learning from smaller failures.

Change is hard for a lot of people, as well as for businesses. But change we must, if we are to innovate.


[1] If only because expenses, like head count and “non-core” activities, are cut quicker than frameworks can be built

[2] Especially publicly-held companies


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Posted in Business Continuity, Business transformation, change, Innovation

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