Inhibitors to Innovation…

Innovation is predicated upon the Organization Culture, which is shaped largely by the ‘tone at the top’ or what leadership is thinking, implementing…rewarding and recognizing by way of the goals and objectives that have been established, accomplished or over-accomplished.

Innovation cannot be ‘forced’ or cajoled out of an organization or team? Nor can innovation be taught or coerced using ‘carrot and stick’ behaviours with the teams?

Innovation occurs where there is an environment that supports and encourages ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking, to achieve goals and results. The Organization Culture is articulated in the leadership direction and vision. Taking risks to innovate are always consistently supported and evaluated, and successful outcomes are allowed to be taken to the next logical conclusion. Unsuccessful innovations are reviewed for areas that may prove vital to future areas of exploration and innovation. No part of the innovation process is ever ignored.

Failure is not viewed as something to be criticized or put down, but instead as an opportunity for learning and having the ability to take corrective actions that obviate similar occurrences in future. There is no such thing as a ‘Holy Cow’ within Organizations who innovate…such ‘Holy Cows’ are instead lead out to pastures for retirement, and innovation teams fill out the blank spaces with newer ideas and concepts.

I was in Tokyo a few years ago, and had an opportunity to visit the shop floor of a few ‘State of the art’ manufacturing facilities. I was amazed at how the work stations at the assembly lines, inevitably had walls and white boards, adorned with process flow diagrams and charts that the operators had created themselves, in order to make their work flow quicker and more efficient. What was even more interesting was that shop floor Supervisors actually took the time to review these ‘innovative ideas’ the operators had put down and reward and recognize the best ideas, as well as consider modifying the process to include the operator’s innovations!

Now that is how you truly ‘Operationalize’ Innovation within the Organization!


Here are Richard’s Top Three Inhibitors to Innovation:

1. An Organization Culture that is admittedly risk-averse and favours a “don’t rock the boat” mentality. Typically such an environment will respond with ” That’s not the way we do it here” for anyone who even remotely tries to innovate or enhance any process within the organization.
Innovators are just about tolerated when their innovation efforts are successful, and downright ‘Crucified’ if they fail.

2. Organizational complacency…when the organization has grown deaf to that pithy aphorism: “whatever it was that got you here is certainly not enough to keep you here.”

3. Leadership that is marking time…. not leaving their mark on time.
Leadership that has grown accustomed to the routine reporting of business numbers, ticking off the right boxes, making the right noises and basically marking time till retirement. This factor is an especially damaging barrier to developing an environment and Organization Culture that truly supports and nurtures Innovation, because of the negative morale that gets percolated throughout the organization.


There is an Advertising adage (not sure of the origins) “Tell them what they can’t have and they all want it.”

I believe that Innovation sometimes needs consumer demand that challenges the Status Quo…so if the market is docile and complacent…happy with the current products and services available, there is very little need to think ‘Innovation.’

Great Organizations (Think Sony’s Walkman, Apple’s IPhone) sometimes challenge the consumer Status Quo by telling the consumer what they truly need – even before the consumer recognizes the need themselves.

It could be said that one definition for Innovation could be: The ability to anticipate and shape Consumer Needs and Wants before they become cognizant of them, and then create Products and Services that fulfill or surpass such Needs and Wants!

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