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Ten Red Flags for Innovation: Why It Fails

by Stefan Lindegaard
April 22, 20124/22/12 6 Comments

What are the signs that innovation in a company is set up to fail? Wouldn’t it be great to have a checklist on this? Unfortunately, innovation is too complicated and company-specific for one standard rule.

It is possible, however, to become better at spotting the signs of failure.

Here’s a list (in no particular order) of the red flags I look for when I talk with executives and innovation leaders trying to get an understanding of their corporate innovation capabilities.

• The lack of an innovation strategy

Executives and innovation leaders have failed to link innovation with overall corporate strategy. As a result, the innovation efforts have no clear direction, and there is not the necessary mix of incremental and radical innovation. No strategy, no focused effort, no results.

• No definition of innovation

Innovation means different things to different people. Every company should develop its own definition that fits its situation and should use this definition to build a common language for innovation initiatives.

• Too much focus on internal capabilities

The future of innovation is open and global. Who will understand this first? You? Or your competitors?

• Too much focus on open innovation

Yes, you need to go open, but open innovation is not the Holy Grail. A key to innovation success is the ability to combine internal and external resources and be in a position to act on opportunities.

• Internal silos are too firmly ingrained

If you cannot make innovation happen across your own business units and functions, how could you possibly expect your innovation to sing beyond your company borders?

• Too much focus on ideas and too little focus on people

People and processes matter more than ideas. Yet too few companies establish programs in which they can identify and develop the right people and match these people with the right ideas at the right time.

• Lack of a strong networking culture

Although executives might acknowledge the value of relationships, they often undervalue the importance of a strong innovation culture. People can figure this out by themselves, they say. Not true. Executives need to establish networking strategies and employees need training that fits those strategies, along with the time to build and nurture relationships.

• Innovation efforts focus on technology or products

Most companies do not work with innovation models, such as the Ten Types of Innovation developed by consultancy Doblin. In that instance, executives are led to focus on innovation within four main categories; finance, process, offering, and delivery. This can help employees and external partners view innovation in a more holistic way.

• It’s all about the usual suspects

Innovation champions and other elite units can work, but the setup of such departments often sends the signal that those guys will take care of it. Other employees might think they do not need to get involved. Sure, everyone should not work with innovation at the same time, but programs or platforms that give everyone opportunities to get involved need to be put in place, too.

• Executives and innovation leaders underestimate the speed of change

Just look at open innovation, where the race is on for all companies, large and small, to become the preferred partner of choice. That way, they can claim the best positions, begin to build strong, stable ecosystems, and win a short-term race that brings long-term value. Things are changing fast, and executives need to move equally fast to claim their position. Yet too many companies have not even begun thinking about open innovation yet. That could prove costly in the long run.

Those are my 10 signs that an innovation initiative is doomed. What do you think? What others can you add?

Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. paul4innovating says:

    Good list to get the thinking going Stefan.

  2. Nico says:


  3. Graeme Bodys says:

    The culture does not welcome people sticking their neck out, suggesting outlandish ideas without jeopordizing their career. Some peoples position and role may add unnecessary gravity or weight to an idea (or vice versa). What I meanis an idea is perceived differently if it is the CEO or the cleaner who suggests it.

  4. Kevin Paylow says:

    "Innovation is everyone's job"

    Throwing out a crowdsourced idea tool and expecting all employees to "innovate" without a clear strategic tie, assessment tools, support or sponsorship leads to a big bucket of ill-fitting ideas and frustrated employees.

    Everyone should be welcome to participate but if no one is "behind the curtain" to connect people, process and resources (and/or in front of the curtain rallying the team) then precious little will be accomplished.

  5. Thanks for this great distillation Stefan. Several of your red flags point to an underlying indicator that predictably influences the success of any collaborative endeavor – the key innovators will have a competency to fluidly be leaders, equals, and followers. An assembly comprised of people who know how to contribute by ideating, listening, and influencing, with collective drive to achieve results beyond personal power motives, will yield to truly novel innovations.

  6. sebastian says:

    solid list to thinker about – one piece that makes me wonder is your first bullet… the lack of an innovation strategy… I always feel it is quite important to make sure there is a clear convergence with the business strategy, seems obvious – but i'm seeing quite a number of cases where people get this urge to create a completely separate innovation piece… that won't work either i think as it will put a hurdle/confusion in place to open the door for the entire team to contribute..
    As Kevin said earlier – key to have some 'guiding hand' behind the curtains that brings people and ideas together in the most subtle way..