Why Managers Fear Innovation

Innovation is a paradox for management. On the one hand you are well aware that you have to take new roads before you reach the end of the present dead end street. On the other hand it is risky. It takes a lot of time. And it takes a lot of resources. Research shows that only one out of seven innovation projects is successful. So saying yes to innovation is a step into the unknown. It creates fear of failure, which causes fear to innovate. It's like sailing to the South Pole like Shackleton, where the surrounding ice can stop you any moment.

Management is under pressure in the business of today. And as an innovator you want them to shift money and resources to the business of tomorrow. On average it takes 18 – 36 months to develop a new concept, which often will only be profitable 2-3 years after introduction. So a lot of managers wait until not innovating is not an option anymore. We all are human.

As innovator you can fight this risk adverse culture, as a kind of modern Don Quixote fighting windmills. Or you can accept it. Only when you accepted it, you can deal with it. Managing innovation has everything to do with managing expectations and reducing risks. I can give you five tips that might get you more support for innovative ideas.

  1. Dogs bark at what they don’t know. So beware of this. Make clear in advance what kind of innovations they can expect (evolutionary improvements or revolutionary new to the world ideas).
  2. Make clear “what’s in it for us”. So present your innovative ideas with a concrete case for new business showing estimates of sales and profit potential.
  3. Make the feasibility clear. Can we make it? What will it cost?
  4. Make clear there’s a market out there. Lead users and co-creation business-to-business partners are perfect advocates to prove there’s a potential market.
  5. Invite top managers on your innovation journey. In this way they can get new insights themselves. You can invite them on a structured innovation expedition called FORTH. Download the map

It all starts with accepting that it is normal that your top managers fear innovation. So think outside the box and present inside the box. Be innovative and act conservative.

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.

  • Alix

    I think it’s rather sad that managers fear innovation. I can understand why they do…no one wants to be party to a “failure.” However, on that note, it seems that stagnation is often the opposite of innovation. And *that* can kill business and cause clientele to drop like flies.

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