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Removing Roadblocks on the Road to Innovation

Innovation is the secret sauce to success. But too often, our efforts to create a business strategy that delivers innovative products or services is derailed by our good intentions, market factors, or other roadblocks holding us back. How can corporate leadership remove the barriers to innovation in 2020 and forge ahead?

Finding Elusive Innovation

Business leadership has spent billions searching for innovation. From creating Innovation Centers to investing in incubators, corporations continue on a snipe hunt for progress. It must be a snipe hunt; 94% of executives say they are frustrated with their company’s efforts to harness innovation in a marketable form.

The problem is there are multiples of roadblocks to innovation and no real best practices that we can harness. That’s why cultivating an environment of innovation in most corporate environments is an elusive undertaking.

Innovation may be more likely to occur outside the enterprise organization, where a lack of resources has fueled the scrappy business strategy of entrepreneurs forced to think outside the box. So we know innovation is out there, but how can business leadership overcome the hurdles?

Overcoming Innovation Barriers
The Harvard Business Review has defined five key behaviors to foster innovation:

  • Cultivating an environment that assumes there’s a better way.
  • Focusing on understanding and responding to customer needs, wants, and priorities.
  • Collaborating between departments to fuel growth.
  • Accepting an agile framework of experimentation, rapid iteration, and “failing forward.”
  • Empowering their workforce to take risks, voice dissent, and ask for resources.

Can these approaches overcome the typical barriers we seen in large corporate settings? One of the obstacles has always been a lack of time to pursue better workflows or more innovative research. Business leadership has recognized these roadblocks and responded by creating Chief Innovation Officer roles, forming innovation centers, cutting checks, and sometimes this works well.

True innovation is elusive, but worth the search.

However, our bureaucracies are sometimes our worst enemies. Workforce (including leadership) inertia and acceptance of the traditional way of doing things creates a cog in the wheel effect that can stop innovation in its tracks. That’s probably why thinking outside the box enough to change a process, or a product has fallen to innovation leadership in the start-up community. They aren’t tied to the corporate way of doing things, and thus we can look to them to see how to capitalize on the trends these brave souls are setting in the marketplace.

The Harvard Business Review puts it this way, “A major paradox managers face is that the systems that enable success with today’s model reinforce behaviors that are inconsistent with discovering tomorrow’s model.”

Business leadership must remove the inertia barrier as a first step toward embracing innovation. To do this, start at the top with leaders that welcome and support new and more innovative ways of thinking. Leadership must lead with bold, creative ideas first. This will inspire the spark that can spread into a cultural conflagration of innovation over time.

But for the trickle-down effect to occur, employees and managers must be encouraged to be bold in their pursuit of breaking the rules. They must be encouraged to pursue their passions, develop more effective workflows, and be accepted in their efforts to both try and fail. Only then will corporations find their way out of the maze and into true innovation.