Duncan Cook

6 June, 2017

Stop Killing Innovation

Running an agency means that you get the great privilege of working with a variety of organisations. The closeness of these relationships mean that you often get an insight into their innermost workings, and you’re able to see how they operate — the good, the bad and, unfortunately, the ugly.

What’s true across the board, is the drive organisations have to become more innovative and disruptive within their sector. Most organisations understand that it’s something they need to do, but the problem is that most of them are making the same mistakes and, in fact, killing innovation.

Here are my top 5 ways I see organisations kill innovation:

1. Innovating the whole company

Going in all guns blazing and trying to make the whole company more innovative in one go is a sure way of drowning innovation in a sea of process and bureaucracy.

You still need to let the team continue to execute the core part of what your organisation does. That team has targets, deliverables and are concentrating delivering on that. They haven’t got the head space to comprehend innovation — they are too busy keeping your organisation alive. Leave them to it.

Really, innovation isn’t done by a team of 500 or 30,000; it’s done by small, fast-moving teams that can dedicate their time to innovation, and have the ability to do it well. Once they’ve proved something is possible, you can roll that out to your execution team to deliver.

2. Applying organisation rules to innovation

Innovation needs the space and freedom to develop, however, most organisations are throttling the life out of it with processes and barriers. Particularly the case within large organisations, there’s a lot at risk, and screw ups can cause damage.

You won’t become innovative if the dedicated teams have to jump through hoops such as IT teams resisting software installations, being told you need to fill out that form, you know that ole chestnut C1b7A, gotta love a form. And don’t you dare forget procurement or branding.

Although these are all essential in a large organisation, each on their own is a dagger to the heart of innovation — combine them all and, it’s game, set and match.

3. You didn’t really back it

You’ve hired a Head of Disruption or Innovation and thought ‘wham, bam, thank you ma’am, we’re an innovation powerhouse now’. You sit back with your heels on the desk and wait for the innovation to happen.

That’s not how it works.

These hires need to have either direct access to the CEO, or his/her boss needs to be a fearless guerilla ready to protect them. Assuming that it will happen naturally is certain failure. You need to be able to give innovation the backing it needs.

4. PR Innovation

Watch out for the traps of the limelight. PR innovation is a real honey trap. Releasing your plans for a certain initiative will get people talking about you, but if you don’t deliver, like the boy that cried wolf, you start to damage your brand and your integrity.

Yes, it’s a quick win without the real hard work of building it, but it can make your innovations feel like dirty gimmicks with no substance.

If you’re looking for a real leader in this space, Amazon is a great example. They announce the unimaginable: drone deliveries and dash buttons, which sound like nonsense, but then they prove themselves by delivering every time.

And right now there is no other organisation on the planet that tech companies fear more.

5. Mixing Incremental & Step Change Innovation

Incremental innovation is easy-to-reach, low hanging fruits. They have a more instant effect, can engage the business more successfully and are positive steps to take.

But beware, this fruit can be poisoned. If you want step change innovation you need to treat them as separate entities, otherwise, you’ll only ever take small steps and never get the opportunity to do the real game changing stuff that your organisation is crying out for.

So where does real innovation happen?

I’ve only ever seen real innovation happen in Rogue teams, teams that are protected and willing to take real risks. Whether that is an external team or a team internally that is protected from the rest of the business and is given real backing to take risks. Think Jonny Ives at Apple. His team are in a virtual bunker, totally separated from other parts of the business until they have something to unleash. If you can create this environment internally, they do it. If you can’t, you need to work with an external rogue team

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