Why Don't Big Companies Innovate More?

This question originally appeared on Quora.
Answer by Lisa Kay Solomon, Professor of Design Strategy, Coauthor of Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations That Accelerate Change

Innovation is hard. As an organization, it's easy to proclaim, "we want to be more innovative," but it's very hard to put into practice. There are three majors reasons for this. First, most organizations are focused on short term results -- quarterly earnings, monthly sales numbers, weekly or daily profit or loyalty metrics. Innovation often takes a along time to incubate and nurture. It doesn't operate on a measurable timeframe like well-defined products and markets.

Second, innovation often requires senior leadership support and the involvement of many different functions across the organization (sales, marketing, engineering, legal, finance, business intelligence, and others). These departments often have their own agendas, budgets and priorities, which makes it difficult to carve out the necessary time to truly collaborate to bring a new idea to market. Big companies are also a breeding ground for unproductive politics to slow down decisions related to securing extra time or funding for these new initiatives.

Finally, innovation requires a very different skill set than execution. Leaders and managers within big companies are used to performing against an established strategy and well articulated goals. Innovation skills are ones that aren't often taught in school or professional development -- skills around curiosity (discovery), creation (making), testing (prototyping), collaboration (ability to work productively with others under conditions of uncertainty and ambiguity), critique (ability to give and receive productive feedback) and courage (willingness to put half-formed ideas on the able and learn from failure).

Ultimately, leaders within big companies need to move away from the model of "leader with the answers" or "leaders who execute against quarterly results" to leaders who can also create the conditions and support teams to embrace the vulnerability of taking new risks and not knowing when or if the right answer will show up.

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