Avoiding Pitfalls to Innovation

Innovation is a powerful organizational tool to create new knowledge, methods, implementations, and paradigms. Innovation can help organizations to develop new products that serve new customers in new markets, allowing them to compete more effectively and gain new revenues. It can also help employees at all levels manage within their global framework as well as to cope with information overload by developing improved systems to process and manage information, including: technical, economic, competitive, environmental, political, and social.
Innovation leads change in so far as it is the process by which new directions are set, new ideas are created, and possibilities are turned into reality. If you are ready to expand locally or globally it can present the ideal process by which these ideas become possibilities. Despite its huge potential, organizations inhibit innovation because they fail to avoid some common pitfalls to success. Here are some common pitfalls to innovation to be aware of:

Focusing on short term results

Short-term, bottom-line oriented thinking can be a sure fire way of crushing innovation. When there is constant pressure and focus on quarterly results, employees feel compelled to focus on short-term solutions and have less time and mental capacity to think about what the business really needs to achieve and maintain profitable operations over the long run. Instead, employees tend to focus on sustaining existing products and services. Such behaviour will not support innovation.
Organizations that are characterized as innovative focus on both theirs, and their customer’s, needs and opportunities. They focus on achieving and maintaining profitable operations. These organizations are constantly looking for ways to reinvent themselves and constantly introduce new varieties and generations of products and services.

Unsupportive performance measurement system

Organizations that have a culture of innovation will measure management’s performance based on their ability to create new value-added products, services and ideas. As well, the extent to which they do this with staff rather than independent of their staff, demonstrates a clearer understanding of the use of an innovation process versus management directive. This can be demonstrated in their regular department meetings. To what extent are meetings focused on exploring new ideas? How many of their staff are genuinely interested in (and willing to pursue) new ideas? Are they trained to understand the innovation process? Is there an aggressive effort in the organization to build new opportunities based on the development of new services and products?
Innovative cultures permit all levels of staff to try new things. Cultures that insist on a requirement for compliance in every dimension are usually crushing creativity and innovative thinking. Individuals who do experiment are often punished-especially if they fail.

Where there is an absence of celebrating creativity and ideas one finds that innovations rarely have a vibrant creative environment to thrive. In contrast, organizations where the most talked about stories revolve around creativity, inspire others to follow suit, building a culture of innovation.

Lackluster leadership

According to Seth Waugh, CEO of Deutsche Bank Americas, culture is a critical factor in promoting innovation and such a culture is initiated by the leadership. Business leaders stimulate innovation by offering incentives to workers, creating an environment, and setting expectations. About high performance leaders, Waugh notes, “You must have people with that hunger to always learn, who are always open and who think about things in a different way. You always have to reinvent yourself tomorrow”.

Hiring the wrong employees

Having employees that a committed to focusing on customers can make a real difference. Intuit, a software company, ensures that the new hires understand the company’s Holy Grail: A Happy Customer. Customer focus, wherein Intuit makes a difference in the customer’s lives, is the everyday mantra practiced by everyone at Intuit. It is demonstrated in their practices such as: interviewing and hiring the right employees who believe in customer first, postage-paid “Customer Suggestions” included with every copy of software (and follow through on the suggestions), answering service and technical support calls for at least four hours each month, “follow me home” research wherein marketing and engineering staff literally follow a customer home and watch them install and use the software. They also have: a data base to track continuous customer feedback, a customer advisory panel consisting of loyal customers providing feedback on new products, features and quality, and focus groups to conduct market research on how customers buy and use software (to manage money and finances).

Not having a process to track and develop innovative ideas

Organizations that have a culture which supports innovation are often customer focused, value-driven and strategic. They ensure that their operating strategies are developed through interactions with their employees, customers, partners, vendors, suppliers and consultants. They review market trends and identify, through benchmarking, what is required to out-perform their competition.
Peter Linneman, Wharton finance professor and founding chairman of Wharton’s real estate department, has a more real world perspective. He says that, there is no magic, “Aha!” moment in most innovation. According to Linneman, “It’s just all hard work – showing up every day in the morning, studying plans, walking around seeing what other people are doing. If you wait for ‘eureka’, you are never going to have innovation.”


Every organization undergoes innovation or else it is not successful. It is just a matter of degree. The essence of innovation is discovering what your organization is uniquely good at, what special capabilities it possesses, and how it can take advantage of these capabilities to build products or deliver services that are better than anyone else’s. Every organization has unique strengths. Success comes from leveraging these strengths in its own service or product market place.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications.

For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca