(Originally posted on The Innovation Workgroup’s LinkedIn page, 16th June, 2015)
Even innovative companies sometimes miss great opportunities. We’ve all heard of Kodak’s bankruptcy after failing to capitalize on digital photography (Kodak invented it!). Many are aware that Xerox, not Apple, discovered that icons were a more effective way to operate applications, but it was Apple, not Xerox, that made billions in profits from the innovation. How can you make sure that your company does not repeat this mistake?
Innovation consultant Mike Maddock wrote a column in Forbes describing three reasons why companies inadvertently kill big ideas. I’ve observed all three in action. Check to see whether any of them is at work in your company.
First, the Tyranny of the Urgent Over the Important
When everyone is overworked and busy fighting fires and striving to catch up, no one has time to look ahead. Big ideas often start as fuzzy notions. Gradually, they acquire form and substance. Only after extensive (and expensive) research, development and testing are they ready for launch. Their impact on the bottom line can be huge, but the payoff is delayed. Therefore, many managers will not spare time, manpower and scarce finances to invest in big ideas. They prefer to work for the immediate gratification that comes from making their numbers.
Second, White Space Orphans
This is a term I coined to describe inventions that don’t fit the existing business. Business unit heads and product managers don’t know how to deal with the new solution because they’ve never had to manage anything like it before. The big idea may require a new distribution plan, new sourcing, a new pricing policy, new partnerships, or even a different way of managing human resources. If no managers volunteer to nurture the new idea, it may fall through the cracks and never see the light of day.
Third, Cultural Resistance
I saw this problem at work in two large organizations. In one, the CMD had unwavering faith in a market research system that had produced great success in other countries and industries. However, when our engagement revealed a big idea that required another approach to market research, the CMD’s wishes trumped our findings, and the opportunity was lost. Likewise, after an in-house innovation team did great work identifying needs and brainstorming for solutions – some of which had game-changing potential – the CMD dismissed almost all of them because they did not correspond to his view of the market.
One management thinker has observed that the root cause of every corporate demise is the choice to prioritize the short term over the long term. When companies respond to big ideas in any of the three ways listed above, they are reflecting short-term thinking. What have you witnessed in your organization, or in other companies? How have you dealt with it? Your observations are eagerly sought.
Additional reading on this topic: Why Your Company Keeps Killing Big Ideas