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Six symptoms your organization is killing innovation

Six symptoms your organization is killing innovation

Six symptoms your organization is killing innovation: What we can learn from IDEO’s Innovation Vectors


Based on their quarter of a century experience in innovation and design thinking, IDEO recently embarked in a quest to validate an innovation framework, which they empirically experienced in their day-to-day work. They translated their insights into a survey – which they named Creative Difference – and validated their framework with more than 100 clients. The framework is composed by 6 vectors; those vectors drive innovation and the set a part an agile and innovative organization from others: Purposefulness, Looking Out, Experimentation, Collaboration, Empowerment and Refinement.

But can the framework be used in an diagnostic way? We posit it

IDEO Innovation Vectors

IDEO Innovation Vectors

can. It can even be translated in easy-to-spot symptoms for your organization illness. It does not provide a quantitative model to measure whether your organization is heavily or only moderately killing innovation. But they provide some qualitative watch-outs, which can be easily spotted and which can be easily addressed by anybody in the organization.

Six Symptoms that your organization might be killing innovation:

  1. Innovation Zombies

Part of our work as innovation consultants is to help address inefficiencies in the innovation process. We begin usually with an audit, by taking a snapshot at the process, but also trying to understand which types of projects make it through the filtering and which ideas don’t. Interestingly enough, one common problem with the innovation funnel is the reappearance of projects which where rejected before. They don’t usually look better, neither they are improved; they just present themselves with cosmetic changes, and unaltered substance. We call those Innovation Zombies. They are dead projects, which resuscitate for political reasons or private agendas. They move throughout the organization by sucking time and meaningful resources from other projects. In a world of scarce resources, not only they steal from others but also prevent the organization from learning from its own mistakes. In the most efficient innovation funnels, these innovation zombies get killed again and again at the same stage. Which does not imply – though – they are not resuscitating once more. Unfortunately, in less efficient funnels, sometimes they find a crack in the system, and manage to move forward in the process, by even arriving to be launched in the marketplace.

  1. Autonomy is independence

Autonomy in management is one of the most misunderstood concepts. Because we saw a trend of people moving from central office cathedrals to remote home-based offices, we tend to believe that autonomy is about getting a job done whenever it suites you best. As long as you deliver what is expected of you. Being independent in timing, location and fashion, does nothing to promote innovation in the organization, unless it combines with a culture where challenging the status quo is normal and accepted. Autonomy is – deep-down-  a by-product of independent thinking, and it requires creative boundary destruction, to be effective in making innovation happen. Think of Stealth Innovation: how could you manage to keep something under the radar screen of management if you would not challenge the boundaries of the status quo?

  1. Leadership is not instilling a sense of purpose

In a previous post we looked at the meaning of unknown unknowns, and how to deal with them. What we did not mention at the time, is that the only cohesive glue of an organization during turbulent times, is purposeful leadership. In a simple metaphor, leadership inspiring a sense of purpose, which goes beyond the economic and financial value or the volume goals, it’s a beacon in the storm. With blurring boundaries, fierce competition from unexpected and new players, and organizations transforming in newer and more unconventional ways, a sense of purpose is a necessary step to ensure your innovators want to fight, and, by doing so, move in the same direction.

  1. Innovation Team members are all based at HQs

As a boutique consulting, we also rely on cold-calling to sell our services. And we often try to get in touch with managers and executives whom we expect to deal with innovation. The scariest rejection we get is: “sorry we don’t do this kind of stuff, the headquarters deal with innovation”. First of all, that brings us to question the relevance of the solutions generated by the HQ. But, more importantly, how can you possibly innovate when all your team is constrained by the same landscape, the same walls and eats the same food in one shared cafeteria? Innovation needs diversity. Innovation needs debates emerging from different point of views. Innovation needs cross-breeding from cultures and societies far from each other. Innovation needs to brake traditions but also it needs to leverage very relevant and powerful local insights. Innovation needs remote and local markets teams. Killing innovation is everything but remote and locally focusing teams.

  1. Teams are not encouraged to interact on daily basis

In professional sports, it is imperative that team train everyday during the season. Beyond the physical fitness, teams need to form and nurture a sort of collective intelligence, whereby the single pieces work according to a common plan. Of course they learn to play a certain scheme, or develop a routine. But, more importantly, they learn to sense as a team, which is more important: because it allows them to react quickly and reorganize during the match, when things are not going as expected. The collective intelligence and the shared team sensing can only be achieved with daily interactions. This should be happening in business also. But it is often outmoded by weekly meetings and monthly project reviews or seldom visits to the project War Room. How can your innovation team break barriers and adapt to change when they have not had the chance to build a collective intelligence and shared sensing?

  1. Traditional leadership styles are prevailing

If it is a common part of your organization culture, that your work for your leaders and not the other way around, then you have a problem. If it is the title that makes the leader, and not vice-versa, then your innovative ability is really under pressure. Beyond inspiring a sense of purpose beyond traditional firm’s achievements, leaders should be helping solve problem, should be inspiring and should help innovators in breaking the boundaries of the organization. In particular they should represent the safety net, which shells innovators whose project failed.

In conclusion

The empirical model developed by IDEO, with the six innovation vectors, shed light on what drives innovation at organizational level. Insights and understanding from the framework can be used to spot symptoms of killing innovation in a specific organization.



Based on the article originally published by on 20/03/2017

Growth Adviser, Innovation Catalyst, Branding Architect, International Expansion Consultant. International change agent and leader, launched growth consulting boutique in 2012. We have four principal areas or intervention 1) Branding (e.g., positioning of new brands, re-positioning of existing brands, brand architecture and design) 2) Innovation (e.g., co-creation with consumers and experts, ideation, business planning, concept validation and fine-tuning) 3) International Expansion (e.g., countries screening and development of expansion plan, route to market strategy, portfolio) 4) Route to Market (e.g. marketing and commercial planning, portfolio analysis).