Ten Ways Organizations Kill Innovation


Every company is looking for the magic formula that will produce breakthrough products and services. But a better starting point is to think about what gets in the way of innovation, especially in firms that already have lots of talented, creative, and motivated people. In other words, by identifying and removing barriers, it might be possible to accelerate innovation simply by leveraging the capability that’s already there.

In that spirit, here are ten common inhibitors that can dampen an organization’s ability to innovate effectively. For each one, think about the extent to which it applies to your firm (never? sometimes? often?):

  1. Our focus on short-term results drives out ideas that take longer to mature.
  2. Fear of cannibalizing current business prevents investment in new areas.
  3. Most of our resources are devoted to day-to-day business so that few remain for innovative prospects.
  4. Innovation is someone else’s job and not part of everyone’s responsibilities.
  5. Our efficiency focus eliminates free time for fresh thinking.
  6. We do not have a standard process to nurture the development of new ideas.
  7. Incentives are geared towards maximizing today’s business and reducing risk.
  8. Managers are not trained to be innovation leaders.
  9. Managers immediately look for flaws in new ideas rather than tease out their potential.
  10. We look at opportunities through internal lenses rather than starting with customers’ needs and problems.

After you’ve thought about these questions individually, bring together your team to discuss your answers. You also might want to send the questions to a wider group and see how they respond. The key is to use this list of inhibitors (and any others you might want to add) as a springboard for dialogue about your company’s innovation practices and culture.

For example, through this process a group of 50 high-potential senior managers from different parts of a manufacturing company all agreed that the focus on short-term incentives was making it difficult for them to support innovation — which was contrary to the message that the CEO was delivering to them and their people. This led the managers to initiate a dialogue with the CEO about alternative ways to fund innovation, resource and vet new ideas, and accelerate progress. While it’s too early to know whether these shifts will make a difference or not, they have already reduced frustration and helped eliminate mixed messages about innovation.

All of us in organizations have the capability to innovate. Sometimes we just have to get out of our own way.

What inhibits innovation in your company?

Ron Ashkenas is a senior partner of Schaffer Consulting, a Stamford, Connecticut consulting firm and the author of the book Simply Effective:  How to Cut Through Complexity in Your Organization and Get Things Done.