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Preventing Innovation

Preventing Innovation may sound like a paradox, but find out below why sometimes it may be necessary.
In the previous column, I looked at the value of including innovation in the planning cycle. The key message here was that there is no substitute for good planning. Innovation benefits can only be achieved through planned effort to invest in new ideas and convert them into practice in a systematic way, and inclusion in the planning cycle is a good foundation for this.
If you have followed this column regularly, you will know that I specialise in trying to convince individuals, teams and organisations to do more innovation. However, you know how sometimes you embark on a project (at work or in your private life…) and without knowing how or when it happened, the project becomes a white elephant, and it sits in the corner and gathers dust and accumulates feelings of guilt and you think: “I should have never started with this”….  Well the same goes for innovation. Sometimes innovation activities have to be prevented in order to avoid it ending up like that.
Preventing Innovation
I have seen many times how innovation projects started with big hype and enthusiasm, only to lose momentum and die a slow agonising death.  It is depressing to see this happen and unfortunately it is a reality for many organisations.  I came across an outstanding blog post by Jeffrey Phillips that touched on this issue and I would like to share some of his perspectives here.
Innovation projects have to be prevented usually because the organisation has poorly defined goals, inadequate resources or doesn’t understand the market or solution they’d need to create.  Phillips argues that this is not only about saving time or money, more important is saving credibility.  He further reasons that if an organisation is just beginning its innovation journey, and lacks innovation experience, doing the right project and the project right matters.  

Kicking off a poorly planned, poorly conceived project that has a high likelihood to end in failure, when the company doesn’t have a lot of patience and is very risk adverse will end any future opportunities.  Phillips lists a number of factors that can alert you to the need to slow or even cancel an innovation activity.  Those factors include: Poorly defined innovation goals.  Simply saying that “we need a new product” or “bring me an interesting new idea” is not enough. Vague or inadequate commitment of time or resources.  “Let’s see how this goes before we commit resources” or “Why can’t you have some good ideas in just a few days” are two statements that should cause you concern. Different definitions or opinions about definitions or outcomes. Imposing a scope that avoids risk or discovery, which is virtually guaranteed to return a product or service that looks like the existing products or services. Lack of preparation, training and innovation skill development. Fear of failure and lack of experimentation.
If one of these risks exist, you have an innovation project that needs to be carefully managed.  If several of these exist, you may want to prevent, delay or postpone an activity until you or your management team can address these issues.  
Where innovation is concerned, most organisations only get a few chances before the management loses interest and teams lose commitment, or start to believe they simply can’t innovate.  In these instances it is better to suffer the small failure of stopping an innovation activity prematurely, to recast and re-plan the activity, than to conduct the activity and have it end poorly.
I fully agree with the perspectives of Jeffrey Phillips on this topic and I want to advise you to think twice before embarking on that innovation project just for the sake of innovating.  Rather make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons, that you understand the risks and that you are truly committed.

Next Time
I had a thought-provoking discussion this week where it was debated that innovation is inherently about changing people’s behaviours and how difficult it is for people to change. So next time I want to discuss the topic of how to make change happen in organisations. Fittingly, I conclude with a quote from Jeffrey Phillips: “It’s simple to run an innovation project, it’s just difficult to run a successful one.”
Sources:
Phillips, J. 2014.  Innovation Prevention. Innovate on Purpose Blog. Online: http://innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com/

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