We recently discussed how failing fast and failing forward is a common strategy for innovative companies in the digital era. These companies are not afraid to come up with new ideas that could potentially fail because they know every failure leads them closer to the next big win. They start small, choose niche markets wisely, and limit the fall out to gather more information and improve their product or service as needed. But what about the projects that don’t even make it that far? Where do those innovations go wrong?
There was a Wall Street Journal article awhile back that talked about an “obsession with innovation” that has taken over the business sector—and I’d say most of us can probably relate to the feeling. Today’s marketplace is moving so fast, and digital is pushing everything forward so quickly, that if we aren’t “innovating”—or at least trying to—we feel like we’re getting left behind. But the truth is, if we aren’t innovating smartly, we’re not innovating at all. To help, I want to share some reasons innovations—a.k.a. “innovations”—fail in the modern business landscape, and what you can do about it.
We Don’t Understand What Innovation Is
Changing for the sake of change is not innovation. Creating a new product that no one needs is not innovation. Creating a product that does something no one is ready to do is not an innovation. Innovation starts with answering the call do something better, smarter, or faster to solve a real need or problem for your customer community. For that reason, innovation is a matter of learning—of constantly striving to improve, knowing that your first attempt might not hit the mark, but what you learn from that attempt will carry you forward. Innovation begins with a clear business objective that can light up both your sales team and your customers. Every hit, miss, and attempt that aligns with that objective is part of the innovation process.
We’re Still Working in Silos
For innovation to be successful in the marketplace—not just in the R&D lab—there needs to be a real synergy in your company, from the folks creating new ideas to the ones selling them out in the real world. All these parties need to be vested in the innovation process, knowing how it will move their jobs, their customers’ lives, and your own company forward. This kind of innovation is called Intertwined Innovation. Based on communication and relationship, it ensures that the innovations you work so hard to create will be successful in the marketplace. And face it: If they’re not successful there, they basically never happened.
We Don’t Know What We’re Trying to Solve
Many of us approach innovation without knowing what the problem really is. We think we know—we assume we know—but we end up solving or fixing a problem that doesn’t really exist. For your innovation to be successful, your teams need to take time to truly understand the problems facing your product—and your customers—and ensure they are solving them head on.
We Don’t Have a Culture of Consensus
We talk a lot about culture and how important it is in creating a successful business, especially in the digital age. The concept holds true when it comes to innovation, as employees need a solid vision to rally behind to create a shared consensus for moving that vision forward. How do you build consensus in your company? Incentives? Accountability? Cross-training? Strong communication and modeling from your CEO and other top executives? If your culture doesn’t promote consensus right along with innovation, you’ll have a lot of innovations surrounding by infighting, arguments, and blame—and those things never lead to progress.
We Make Bad Value Judgments
The problem in today’s market is not a lack of innovation—it’s the fact that there are a surplus of good ideas floating around. In order to be successful, we need to practice good judgment. We need to look at things like timing, and understanding when your customer base will be ready to purchase or adopt your innovation. We also need to look at how often we innovate certain products. If iPhone came out with a new model every month, customers would never be able to keep up. Finding the sweet spot of innovating and relaxing is an important part of innovation all its own.
We Don’t Align Our Innovations with Our Vision
There are lots of things to innovate in the world—but not all of them align with your company’s mission and vision. Sometimes it makes sense to pursue a new idea, and other times it is better to either roll it into a whole new company—or simply move on. Before investing in any innovation, ask if it makes sense for your company and values right now.
Lastly, remember: Innovation does always not equate to impact. There are lots of new and fast ways to do things, but that doesn’t mean they are worthwhile or will improve anyone’s lives. Be selective. Move quickly and decisively, but take your time when you need to. There is nothing like good old fashioned common sense when it comes to innovation—even in this digital age.