Overcoming innovation obstacles

By Eric van Niekerk.

Despite innovation’s success in the business realm, with specific innovation strategies rocketing companies like Tesla, Unilever, Netflix and Amazon into the global spotlight, the term is often met with scepticism. With less than 50% of South Africa’s top companies sporting a dedicated innovation department, it seems that local organisation have not yet fully opened up to the possibility of innovation.

Introducing the topic of innovation locally can be a challenge. It requires a further look into how to tackle the obstacles that can hinder innovation adoption within an organisation, with recommendations on how to overcome them.

Identifying Innovation Obstacles

It is often difficult to pinpoint the exact obstacles an organisation faces when attempting to adopt an innovative business approach. Sometimes, innovation drives are invested in and implemented, only to fail a short while later. Luckily, there are impactful ways to measure an organisation’s innovation strengths and weaknesses. The use of Innovation Readiness Models are a popular tool in identifying the best approaches to fostering a culture of innovation within an organisation. These can assist in identifying hindrances in the innovation growth of an organisation, and can provide insight into how to overcome these.

Common Innovation Barriers

Following are some common barriers to innovation performance found within large organisation:

  1. Red Tape: Leagues of red tape and administration will act as a barrier to innovation commitment. Instead of having several forms to fill in and hoops to jump through, make innovation easy and accessible. This can be done through the use of innovation management systems.
  2. Lack of Action: If members of an organisation do not see innovation going anywhere, they will not commit their time to growing innovation. Talking about innovation and actually doing innovation are two different things. Ensure that organisational leaders show commitment to innovation, and communicate innovation implementations to the whole organisation. Only once members of an organisation see that innovation is a worthy commitment of their time and resources, will the chances be better that they actively participate.
  3. Exclusive Innovation: Only allowing select members of an organisation to innovate may alienate the remainder of the workforce to the concept of innovation. Rather, allow room for all members of the organisation to contribute to the innovation process. Actually, allowing for almost all members of the organisation to contribute to the innovation process can come with a myriad of benefits to the organisation, as outlined in this article about Employee Innovation.

Innovation Killers

The above section highlights some barriers to innovation in that these points will make innovation adoption a slow and tedious process. However, the following could outright kill the innovation drive within an organisation:

  1. Fear of failure: If employees believe that failure is unacceptable then they will not take the risk to innovate. Failure should rather be seen as a step in the learning process to success.
  2. Habit: Organisational structures can provide a safe and undisturbed environment; a comfort zone. As human beings tend to be creatures of habit, breaking out of an established structure can be difficult. Ensure that innovation processes are made part of daily organisational functioning.
  3. Lack of innovation structure: Organisations who lack the appropriate channels for innovation, from ideation to implementation, will not succeed in innovation. Structures must be put in place to develop and refine innovative ideas and turn them into a reality. There must also be appropriate ways to measure innovation success once implemented.

Innovation can work for you

Innovation and its benefits are not reserved for small technology start-ups and high revenue private corporations, innovation strategies have the possibility to grow any organisation, regardless of size or sector, in a variety of ways. Overcoming innovation barriers and allowing your organisation to innovate could bring about an assortment of unforeseen improvements and benefits.

Innovation is not necessarily about developing a new, disruptive product that will rocket your brand to global popularity. Rather, innovation aims to incorporate original ideas into all aspects of an organisation: from small improvements to how employees take lunch breaks, all the way through what services the organisation can offers. All of this can be the result of an innovation drive.