Five Barriers to the Innovation Process and How to Overcome Them

It would seem that the innovation process is simple: Get an idea, refine that idea, implement it, and repeat the process. Yet like anything that’s simple to put on paper, practice is another matter. Here are five common problems with the innovation process and how to resolve them.

Challenges in “Buy-In”

This, by far, is the most common challenge faced across companies. It reflects a mix of culture, motivation, and misunderstanding that can weigh down innovation processes like a stone.

The most common summary of this problem comes down to the phrase, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” The response to this should be “So why did you decide to do it that way?” It’s worth remembering that organizations rarely make decisions that hurt them at the time. If a company developed a way of doing things in 2015, then it was likely the ideal one at the time.

Yet that’s a long time ago. Technology improves; companies grow and tap into new resources; new people are hired and incorporated into the team; the standard of innovation and best practices for entire industries can shift dramatically.

Of course, sometimes a time-tested approach really is the best one. Yet by offering a reasonable challenge to that approach, it can get people thinking. Pushing them to consider why they do things and whether there’s a better way can help get up the enthusiasm needed for people to buy in.

Struggles with Ideas

This problem is something of an onion; as you peel back each layer, you find something new underneath. This can be an issue of a lack of ideas in the overall industry, a struggle on the part of the company, a paucity of creativity on the part of the team, or even just one person frustrated they can’t seem to come up with something to contribute, as much as they want to.

Solving this issue requires both encouraging creativity and broadening the scope of what an “idea” is. When many people tell you, “I don’t have many good ideas,” first ask them what they’re defining as “good.” Often they’ll tell you they mean revolutionary change. Similarly, if they have one good idea, why does it matter if it doesn’t have company?

Make clear the different types of innovation, and demonstrate why it’s important. A simple idea to cut down on time processing paperwork or something that saves the company a little money every month is just as good an idea as the next blockbuster product. Point out also that incremental innovation often adds up; if five people have small ideas that work, they can add up to one amazing result.

Uncertain Strategy

A well-implemented strategy is key to any innovation process, but that doesn’t mean finding one is easy. This is true whether you’re starting from scratch or are repairing a process that worked before but has since fallen aside.

The key is to ask yourself what strategy complements your company structure. How does information flow through your organization? Who do you hear from the most? Who do you have to come to in order to get feedback? How engaged are employees generally with your internal communications and initiatives?

For example, if you’re an organization that works best with formal committees, establishing one and ensuring it meets regularly and communicates with employees regularly will be your best approach. If you’re a small company, it might even be, quite literally, a dedicated time at the end or beginning of the day where everyone sits down and starts brainstorming.

Still, other companies with a friendly competition culture might respond better to “gamification” strategies. Each strategy will fit the particular organization like a glove.

Lack of Resources

“I don’t have the budget” is a common refrain when dealing with roadblocks to the innovation process. Yet, it can be an error to assume all you need to do is throw more money at a committee.

Sit down and consider the resources your team has, not just budget, but the tools available to them and the time they have to participate. A well-funded team with plenty of tools can struggle to deliver any ideas when they’ve got their day-to-day work to complete and other projects to square away. Similarly, a well-managed modest budget is better than one that’s generous but poorly spent. Examining how and why resources are used and the decision-making behind those uses can often free up resources.

Clearing this roadblock often requires creativity and innovation itself and also easing your team into the idea of letting some things go. If they’re doing work that perhaps needs to be passed off to more junior employees, for example, you may need to help them see that their time’s better-spent building, not maintaining.

Finding Motivation

Anyone is going to struggle with walking into the boss’ office and pitching them an idea. Putting yourself out there is difficult for even the most extroverted of us. Similarly, if people feel like they’ve got a never-ending to-do list they need to stay on top of, it can be hard to find the energy to add something else to the list.

Addressing this problem requires a few approaches. The first is to design a submission method everyone’s comfortable using, whether they want to grab the boss for a couple of minutes or send an email to a suggestion box. If people can decide how much they want to commit, they’re more likely to do so.

Secondly, the innovation process should be seen as a collaborative effort, not another item on the to-do list. Not everyone is going to have time to engage, and that shouldn’t be shamed. Help people understand why innovation is important and offer ways, like voting on ideas, to contribute if they’re pressed for time. And be sure to emphasize that any innovation process is iterative, so there will be plenty of opportunities to contribute and learn.

The innovation process needs to be crafted to fit each group. To learn how you can build your own, request a Demo.

This article was originally published on the IdeaScale blog here.