Innovation in Large Organizations — the Challenges
What are the most common challenges or barriers to driving innovation in large organizations?
I recently had the pleasure to give an interview to Jesse Nieminen from Viima. One of the key questions was ‘What are the most common challenges or barriers to driving innovation in large organizations?’ Here is my answer:
Innovation in large corporate environments typically suffers from bureaucracy, politics, a risk-avoidance mindset, and a general ‘disconnect’ from the organizational purpose — and these blockers can be seen even in companies that are truly determined to innovate.
In many cases, I’ve seen great ideas being abandoned due to inertia or political reasons — e.g., when, in absence of an objective ‘opportunity evaluation’ framework, ‘political’ interventions impact innovation investments. In other cases, I’ve seen organizational complexity and bureaucracy blocking corporate innovation — for example when innovators get frustrated while trying to navigate the organizational structure in search of the right stakeholders to pitch their ideas and seek support.
On the other hand, I have witnessed small but inspired startup teams that managed to produce impressive solutions, surprisingly fast, with extremely limited resources. What makes the difference in such cases, is the belief in the purpose, the mission, and the vision of the company along with the true agility of the team — its ability to learn quickly and pivot as needed. This is the ‘startup mindset’ that corporations need to adopt.
What makes the difference is the belief in the purpose, the mission, and the vision of the company along with the true agility of the team — its ability to learn quickly and pivot as needed.
Another frequent point of failure is when corporate leaders fail to convince their people about the importance of innovation in their context. I mean, it is easy to set up fancy collaboration spaces, organize innovation events, hackathons, or even establish an impressive innovation lab — but without a strong link to the organizational purpose and key results, there is a risk to end up with the so-called ‘innovation theatre’. In such cases, the initial excitement quickly fades away due to the absence of meaningful outputs and outcomes.
Ironically, such ‘lightweight’ or ‘on the surface’ innovation programs can even damage the ability of the organization to innovate — as people quickly realize that fancy innovation activities alone cannot serve the business goals of the company.
Finally, I would highlight the limited ‘innovation education’ as a frequent blocker for corporate innovation. Very often, there is no consistent and contextualized innovation process for the company, there is no shared understanding of the key principles, and no ‘standard innovation language’. This prevents alignment on what innovation means in the context of the company and allows confusion around the tools, the methods, and the innovation processes.
Companies do need a framework for innovation and a strong innovation leadership on top of it.
Read the full interview here