Think of something new. Right now. Something that will surprise and delight. Something that other people will get behind. Got something? It’s not that easy coming up with new ideas out of the blue. Without a process to guide you, true, valuable and evidence-based innovation is hard.
It’s also a common problem. Currencycloud’s own research has found that 43% of respondents can’t come up with innovative ideas, 54% can’t turn those ideas into reality, while 55% can’t keep the organisation’s enthusiasm going for a new project. Furthermore, 51% of respondents can’t keep up with the pace of change and 47% find they face internal resistance to new ideas.
But even though there are many challenges, they can be overcome. In fact, they must be overcome. Companies that fail to innovate and move forward don’t just become stale, they become obsolete. Innovation is critical to business survival.
Here we focus on those top five roadblocks to innovation and suggest how to turn them into opportunities.
It’s hard to come up with new ideas
Great ideas hardly ever come from sitting down at an allotted time for a brainstorm. Finding great ideas must become an organic, company-wide behaviour. Often, the best ideas come from places that corporates least expect to find them. In other words, if marketing is tasked with ideation, you can guarantee that the best innovation will start off with a suggestion from an engineer or a friend’s social media post.
That said, it’s possible to foster innovation by giving it some structure. Entrepreneur.com has some pointers on getting innovation off the ground. One is to embed ‘innovation time’ into the working day. This doesn’t mean sitting in a quiet room with a blank piece of paper and a pencil. It means breaking out of the echo chamber, surfing the web, taking the day to attend a festival, or visiting a community group. Innovation comes from observation and seeking new perspectives.
Ideas stay rooted in ‘development hell’
Getting innovations off the page and in front of customers is one of the biggest challenges businesses face. In our research, more than half of respondents (54%) admitted that they faced this issue. There are many reasons why good ideas die young, most of which are down to incompatible company mindsets.
Beyond the start-up phase, most businesses find themselves trapped in a fixed mindset. There are too many responsibilities, regulations, deadlines and so on to keep an open mind about everything. Stiff processes slowly take the place of fluid experimentation.
More than a quarter (26%) of respondents said that internal politics put a stop to projects, while 22% put failure down to a risk-averse company culture. A similar number found it too hard to innovate while also concentrating on day-to-day functions (24%), or that having to make decisions by committee simply stalled ideas in development hell (25%).
One thing that moves innovation from the ‘talking’ to the ‘doing’ stage is framing ideas in a business context. Creating an innovation strategy that marries ideas to goals – such as improving existing products, speeding up back-end processes or improving customer experience – demonstrates back to the business that new ideas can have tangible impacts.
It might be hard to believe, but there are still executives who believe innovating customer experience has little impact. They obviously haven’t seen how some companies are growing their revenues by $124m just through indexing a single point higher in customer experience. By pinning ideas to business outcomes, innovation stands a much stronger chance of making it into production.
There’s a lack of support for new projects
Innovation is a discipline that needs both structure and leadership, as well as fluidity and communal responsibility. If companies aren’t careful, innovation rapidly turns into the ‘Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody’ joke¹.
To make sure that a company accepts and supports innovation, there must be someone visibly in charge of moving the process along. Someone that can be contacted with queries; someone who can remind others to be innovative. This also needs to be someone who can gather flights of seeming fancy and put them on track towards clearly defined business goals.
This someone also must be accessible. Another suggestion from Entrepreneur.com is to make it easy to escalate ideas. Senior management needs to be open to new ideas, but more importantly, to promote that they’re open to ideas. They can do this by creating brainstorming sessions, developing a weekly AMA² or simply keeping in touch with staff. Innovation doesn’t perform well in a strictly hierarchical environment, but it benefits from tacit endorsement and buy-in from the very top of the tree.
There’s resistance to change
The flip side of encouraging buy-in is creating resistance. It’s not just Scorpios who allegedly hate change, it can be a worrying characteristic in a business. There is the implication that the status quo is failing and that the person in charge of maintaining that status quo is failing by association.
Nearly half (47%) of our survey respondents said that fighting past the internal challenges meant they were too slow to market with new ideas. Nearly a quarter found the leadership (24%) or the company (22%) were too risk-averse.
One way to challenge this resistance is to approach change piecemeal. Begin with pilot projects; ring-fence spend that won’t impact the bottom line if ideas don’t pan out; start with advocates who can spread the news and enthuse the wider stakeholders. This has the added benefit of encouraging a ‘test and learn’ culture, as more and more colleagues discover there are ways to explore new ideas without undermining daily operations.
We can’t keep up with change
The task of keeping up with changes in the marketplace is a mammoth one. As so much is now either driven or enabled by technology, it becomes doubly difficult, as most companies are set up by experts in their field. Unless that field also happens to be technology-based, businesses soon find themselves confused and falling behind. There are two approaches to combating this problem and neither should be used to the exclusion of the other.
First, there is the challenge to upskill. Few companies today can afford to remain completely ignorant of developments in technology or data, another great driver of change. Training existing staff is an option, but this takes time, something companies don’t often have the luxury of. Hiring specialists with up-to-date skills can bring a company bang up to date, but experts come at a premium as they are, understandably, in-demand.
To find a balance between these two alternatives, it is important to identify the core business processes that are most at threat and employ to protect those, while upskilling existing staff in less critical areas.
The second approach is partnerships. These have the advantage over in-housing all capability because you’re choosing to work with specialists. These are experts who evolve with the market, making it easier for them to stay abreast of innovations. They also have access to complementary networks that can help to extend the original company’s reach. Finally, it is possible to dial up or down their involvement in innovation projects as need dictates.
Innovation is not a science, it’s a process, one that requires guidance and structure but that encourages rather than stifles inspiration. Garnering support for innovation means delivering a process that will have a meaningful impact on company growth while maintaining innovation means fostering this culture over the long term. Each company must find its own way in this process, but there is one thing that is universally true – failure to innovate is guaranteeing failure, full stop.
- “Four people – Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody – had an important job. Everybody was asked to do it, but they were sure Somebody would. Anybody could have done it but Nobody did.”
- Ask Me Anything, popularised by messageboard Reddit where famous names open the floor to fans and followers so they can, as the name suggests, ask anything they please.