Five Killers of Innovation

by Akbar Jaffer
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Killers of innovation
Killers of innovation

Broken bulb

Innovation is the driving force for most businesses, and leaders and management of an organization are always looking for the magical formula that will bring in breakthrough ideas and products. But most of the times, it is not the lack of the magic formula that hinders innovation, but behaviors and practices that are ingrained in the organizational culture.


Based on my discussions with various technology leaders and based on my own experiences working in the high-tech industry, below, I identify the following five killers of innovation:

1.    Too much focus on one aspect of the business

Many companies only focus on the core operations of their business and ignore any activities or ideas that threaten to disrupt the established aspect of their business. Whether it is sales, marketing, or engineering, many small as well as multinational companies face this problem. We have always heard of Microsoft and Oracle as an engineering company, haven’t we?  For many years I have heard the phrase “If it ain’t broken don’t fix it.”  For innovation to happen, the way to think is “if it ain’t broken doesn’t mean its working optimally.” Success makes us lazy and complacent which kills the innovative spirit.

2.    Lack of financial commitment

The lack of financial commitment favors short-term gratification. Innovative ideas need financial backing and investment to kick-off from the ground. Before innovation comes experimentation and we all know how big an investment R&D is.

Many businesses consider their short term needs and goals before deciding to invest in a new venture, which is an incorrect approach. Companies should be looking towards the future potential of the idea, in the long term, before making an investment. Giving into the pressures of Wall Street and quarterly growth game causes businesses to become short-sighted.

3.    Lack of the right talent and skills

Sometimes, it is not the organizational approach to innovation which kills it, but the lack of right talent and skills which is essential for its survival. Many business managers today are trained in the respective aspects of the business, but they are not innovation leaders. If you don’t have the right people working for you, then you don’t have any chance of innovative breakthroughs.

4.    Narrow focus and tunnel vision culture

Narrow focus does not encourage failure, does not let people take risks and does not support entrepreneurship. It drives out ideas that take long to mature, and are potentially beneficial in the long run. The fear of unknown government regulations or external pressures, and fear of a displaced industry, lobbying or special interests, promote the tunnel vision culture. Many businesses reject new ideas because of fear of cannibalizing their existing products or fear of market rejection.

5.    Chasing the competition

Although it’s very logical for a product to be comparable to its biggest competitors, almost all the organizations that I studied spend almost 95% of their resources and effort in closing the competitive gaps in the product. Although that’s good, it does not account for innovation. By the time the skater skates to the puck, the puck is no longer there. While you’re closing the competitive gaps your competitors have taken another innovative leap leaving you always following them.


Five Killers of InnovationBut this is not it. These five only make the bottom rungs of the ladder that brings down innovation. Putting internal needs of the organization before customer needs, looking for flaws in new ideas before their potential, not learning from previous failures, aversion to risk, confusing new technology with innovation and ignoring the rules of brainstorming are among the rest of the rungs of the ladder. By identifying which of these inhibitors characterize to your organization, you can remove the internal barriers to innovation. Eliminate these five killers of innovation. Figure out where the puck is going to be and then skate there.

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