We love innovation. We think it’s the most gosh-darn important and super-sexy thing in the world. We want it and we want it now but oh, we’re not going to fund it fully until we absolutely know that it can work. Did I mention we kind of like the way things are today? ~ Anonymous Leader in Almost Any Org
I was a VP of Innovation for a Fortune 500 company and I saw first hand the tension between fixing what’s broken right now and innovating for the future. Unfortunately, fear, lack of understanding and pride in today’s success often makes innovation simply a buzz word and not a business practice in motion. A visionary client of mine knows the barriers to innovation all too well. It’s lonely, challenging and a hard place to be, but there is no glimmer of giving up – just pushing forward because it matters. While others see puzzle pieces, my client sees how they fit together and it’s an amazing vision.
I know all too well that there are many reasons why innovations fail. My client and I recently discussed how to get others behind this innovation and assessed progress in six key areas.
Take an Honest View
It’s easy to get caught up in a great idea but when you’re eating, sleeping, breathing that idea for weeks and months on end it’s also easy to lose perspective. Is that great idea an innovation, passion project, incremental improvement, just adding a little spice to the status quo? Take the time to be honest with yourself before pushing forward an innovation that’s unwelcome at worst and unappreciated at best.
- Is the value really there?
- Is the pain of change worth the future state?
- If I give up now, what’s the short term and long term cost to the business?
There are always loud naysayers when people try to push the status quo and create something totally new. You may hear things like:
- It’s too hard.
- Nobody could make that work.
- We have a lot of other things to do – do we really have time to waste under the umbrella of innovation?
All of those comments are jealousy wrapped up in negativity. It’s like little kids that say “I didn’t want to be in it anyway” when they’re not picked for the part they wanted in the school show.
Fear stops people and organizations in their tracks all the time. Hello! The status quo is called the comfort zone because it’s comfortable. When you’re talking about innovation, acknowledge the fear that’s present instead of tossing it aside. Acknowledge that what’s happening today is working (if it is) and talk openly about how hard it can be to make the leap to something new – especially when nobody is asking for it (because they don’t even know that they want it… yet).
Fear of innovation doesn’t fundamentally change the value. (Click to Tweet)
As a single voice in the mix, it’s tough to convince others that your innovation will be valuable – especially if there will be the pain of transition in the process.
Stop waving the flag of innovation alone and ask others to join you. Ask not only for their active support, but also what you need and openly discuss what may be in their way. Not everyone is going to jump on board but that’s not a sign to give up – it’s sign to talk to more people, have more discussions, and build more relationships. If you’ve taken an honest view, your champions are out there.
There is a time to stop talking about your great vision and put it in action even on a small scale. People can’t always wrap their head around concepts but they can around reality. Show them how it works and let them get their hands dirty with your working models. Put it into action, get feedback, collect results, share real data and experience, and speak in the present tense – “it will” vs “it is.”
Build a Compelling Story
People connect with stories more than numbers, ideas, technical specs or detailed charts. Wrap the future up in a compelling story and get really, really good at telling it. Tell a story about people, why it matters, today’s challenges and what the new world will look and feel like. Make it real, make it personal and be prepared to make it come true.
In the end, like my client, your idea may be brilliant but unfortunately, that will not make adoption easy. Stay focused on your why, your honest view, and don’t give up. Take every challenge as an opportunity to challenge your own thinking, get clearer and make adjustments.
Don’t forget: Every failure, when coupled with learning, leads to future success. (Click to Tweet)
What’s your advice? How have you effectively overcome barriers to the adoption of innovation?
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