Adam Hartung gets to the point of Why Innovation Usually Fails in Forbes Magazine on-line. The whole story can be summed up in this paragraph from his post:
When companies launch innovation programs, management invariably wants to make sure they are carried out “effectively” and “efficiently.” Consultants and gurus are hired to make sure no time or money is wasted. “Criteria” for evaluating innovations are developed. Budgets are established, and timelines are set to make sure nothing is done outside of preset parameters. Management applies “best practices” to it all.
Totally Nailed It
If you were to take nothing away from Adam’s post but this paragraph, you have your summary of why innovation and efficiency don’t mix. Let’s explore Adam’s ideas one by one, shall we?
criteria and management oversight I get that management wants to see progress on their programs and that criteria need to be established. But the best thing management could do for an innovation program is give it a vague problem to solve and get out of the way. Weekly status reports and monthly reviews are for project progress. Projects are relatively known entities with stringent timelines. Innovation, on the other hand, is ambiguous by nature. Unknown unknowns are commonplace with innovation, so reporting “project progress” can be very frustrating for both the innovator and the manager. The fact is that an innovation mentality is different from a project mentality, and the two should never be mentioned in the same sentence, lest bad things happen.
failure vs. efficiency The two don’t go together. Period. For every guru talking about failing fast, you have five middle managers second guessing your progress, your methodology, and demanding to be convinced that your direction isn’t flawed on a daily basis. The real zinger is that time spent putting presentations together to report on fast failures and plead for continued funding leads to the wrong kind of failures. Time spent managing paperwork is not time spent failing fast. Ironically, failure ensues.
budgets? When I go gambling in Vegas, I personally set aside a predetermined amount of money that won’t cripple me if I lose it. Then I go out and have a good time. I don’t go to Vegas hoping to turn my last hundred dollars into a house payment for the next five years. Those stakes are too high, and if that’s what business transformation means to your organization then you should start a Powerball pool with all of your employees. The odds are better. Organizations can’t bet the farm on innovation, because there are a lot of missed steps when it comes to failing fast. See above. On another note, if the money has been budgeted, then I shouldn’t have to ask to be able to spend it via daily / weekly / monthly status presentation. The justification has already been built into the annual budget.
timeline vs. general direction I’m not unreasonable, I know that one of the keys to innovation is speed to market. I also know that detailed timelines can’t be placed on vague ideas. When it’s early in the innovation process, nobody knows whether or not it’s going to take three weeks or three months to land a strategic partnership agreement with a key vendor. Guessing just leads to missed expectations and more reporting about how next time you’re going to hire a better guesser. That’s why I like the concept of having a general direction. If I have a problem to solve and a general direction on how I’m going to get to solving it, then the timeline will take care of itself. If I’m a good leader, and why would you have hired me if I’m not, then I’ll become familiar with the market and acutely aware of the market’s velocity, by default. That will drive the timeline. Not arbitrary dates.
apply best practices Are you for serious? I think that there are generally accepted problem solving methodologies. I also think that there are general communication processes that can be established. And I think that some ways may be better than others. I don’t think that I can look at the way that Company X innovates and apply it to Company Y. There are too many variables: markets, problems to solve, consumers, vendors, distributors, personnel, facilities, equipment, corporate DNA, and the list goes on. If I look at innovation as a complex network of bringing an idea to market to solve a problem, then replacing one best practice part of the network, in isolation, won’t necessarily give me similar returns as another organization.
What Do You Think?
Now that I have that off my chest, I’m interested to find out what you think. Am I way out of line with this one, or right on? I’d love to get your take in the comments below.