Innovation, Technology, and Life in the Cloud

George Watt

Five Innovation Killers and How to Stop Them

Five Innovation Killers and How to Stop Them

Want innovation to flourish at your company? Avoid these common problems.

Innovation is hard. Many of the hardest parts of the journey come long after an innovative idea is born, and barriers to innovation are commonplace. There are many potential hurdles to clear, but let’s focus on a few of the most frequently encountered.

1. Process

One of the craziest phenomenon, especially in larger organizations, is how attached to—perhaps even in love with—processes people can become.

This often results in use of the wrong processes for innovative initiatives, wasted effort, poor data, bad decisions and highly frustrated employees. Though this might appear to be simple to detect and correct, it has a nasty, insidious side. Teams tasked with helping others to bring their innovative ideas to life design “new” programs and processes that are a reincarnation of existing, ineffective processes with the addition of a few new charts, tools or terms. This additive approach makes the old processes even worse than they were, and can render innovation tools ineffective.

Advice: Design your innovation programs from the ground up. It’s OK to reuse things, but add them in to close gaps after the new program is designed. Leverage industry best practices like The Lean Startup.



“If innovators are not willing to learn from their experiments, if they design them in such a way that they can only confirm their hypotheses, or if they ignore anything that goes against their hypotheses, they will still fail.”

— George Watt, VP of Strategy, CA Technologies


2. Lack of Investment

Businesses often invest in programs that capture ideas and start work.

However, many innovation programs fail to plan ahead for parallel successes and investment growth. They allocate funding for an idea in its first year, but fail to recognize that if the idea is successful they will need to fund it the following year; and each idea will likely require more funding as it grows. This eventually puts them in the unenviable position of having to choose whether to continue to invest (usually under invest) in the initial idea or shut idea intake down.

Advice: Model your innovation program rigorously. Plan for parallel successes, increased investment as ideas mature and evolve, and maintenance of an investment pipeline.

3. Introspection

Innovators become hypnotized by their solution to a problem.

Yet the same innovators fail to confirm whether anyone else has that problem, whether those that have the problem find it painful enough to solve, and whether those that have the problem believe the way in which the innovator plans to address the problem would be helpful to them. If unaddressed, this will result in investment of time, money and resources building things that nobody wants. In larger organizations, this can take the very expensive form of a “committed bet.” In a committed bet, large teams are assigned to build something before key questions such as those are answered. These committed bets can cost millions, and often they deliver no value whatsoever to the intended customer or organization that invests in them.

Advice: Actively engage potential customers to confirm customer-problem fit and problem-solution fit before investing in building a solution. Build a minimal viable product (MVP) and return to the customer for confirmation the solution is still on the right path.

4. Treating Everything the Same Way

Managing everyone/everything the same way is a well-known management trap, yet it happens often in innovation programs. And it is not limited to the context of process and programs.

What works when building one thing may not work for another. What works for one team may not work for another. People work and think in different ways, and that’s what makes working with innovators like those in the CA Accelerator great. Constraining their thinking can rapidly knock them off track and lessen their probability of success; or it can result in underachievement.

Advice: Be open-minded. Learn from your intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs. Be willing to offer a variety of tools, techniques and processes. Be willing to throw away a tool, technique, operational model that you truly believe in and replace it with something else. Use facts to determine whether your current, and newly proposed, tools are effective. If they are equally effective, offer a choice. Take the same approach to elements of your program. Perform regular retrospectives, and constantly inspect and adapt.

5. Egos and Unconscious Bias

Innovation programs use the scientific method to remove bias. They emphasize explicitly surfacing hypotheses and running lean experiments to confirm or refute them. But that is not enough.

If innovators are not willing to learn from their experiments, if they design them in such a way that they can only confirm their hypotheses, or if they ignore anything that goes against their hypotheses, they will still fail. That kind of failure can take a long time because it can look like success, and it can result in a long journey down the wrong path. What’s even worse is that an opportunity for a valuable pivot can be missed.

Advice: Be open and transparent. Have tools and techniques to apply a fact-based, scientific approach and share your work with others. Listen openly to them, and leverage your mentors and colleagues. A lot of successful innovations started as something vastly different than what there are now known to be.

This article is was originally posted at “Rewrite”.

George is co-author of “Lean Entrepreneurship” and “The Innovative CIO”.

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This site contains articles regarding entrepreneurship, innovation, and the practical aspects of deploying, providing, managing, and using cloud computing, and other technologies. I also share my thoughts and experiences related to consumer driven IT, social media, management issues, and about what some refer to as “soft skills”.

All works copyright 2009 – 2019 George Watt – All rights reserved.

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