Thursday, April 19th, 2012 11:30 am | by Kirsten Osolind
Eight years have passed since we won "Honorable Mention - Best Small Business Blog" in the first annual MarketingSherpa Blog Awards. This week we're back to blogging with fresh perspective. We plan to use this new blog to take a stand on "innovate or perish." To answer naysayers who suggest that most companies lack the capacity to be innovative. Why? Well, because we believe that America is inherently innovative. That American business is innovative. That the world is innovative. And that with the right tools, process, discipline, commitment, and vision any company can be innovative. Yet 33% of all new businesses fail in the first six months. Eight out of ten tank in the first three years. And according to the Journal of Product Innovation Management, for every 7 new product ideas, 1.5 are launched, and only 1 succeeds.
Clearly there are some big hurdles to idea implementation and innovation. Avoiding premature idea strangulation (gasp!) starts with analyzing potential pitfalls.
Yes - smart folks have talked about some of these issues in isolation, but rarely if ever inclusively and if so inadequately. So, how does innovation get stymied? Why do good ideas fail? Here are 10 reasons (our inclusive checklist):
(1) Good Idea: Dime a Dozen
Companies — and human beings — are instinctively good at generating ideas. Ask any employee at your company; bet they can list three "creative ideas" off the top of their head. Not to discount the value of creativity; most companies don't need help propagating more ideas. They need the discipline, process, support, metrics, and reward systems necessary to turn their best ideas into sustainable value. Be selective about the ideas you focus on.
(2) Good Idea: Execution Flaws
Guy Kawasaki once wrote, "Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard." The world is littered with good ideas, thwarted by flaws in execution. Flaws in executing any reasonably good idea can be inadvertently overlooked and they can be fatal. General Motors' Chevy Volt hybrid was "courageously innovative in design" but the battery pack was technically dangerous (a few cars blew up in flames), GM failed to develop a public recharging station infrastructure, and the price shocked the average auto buyer. Yes - businesses are generally better off when they shorten the cycle from idea to tangible, marketable product in a repeatable, reliable way. But "go early, go ugly" can swiftly go south.
(3) Good Idea: Needs to Percolate
Some ideas percolate for years before being deemed viable for commercialization. Innovations can take time to take. The first email was sent in 1971, but it took 25 years to reach saturation. The first Xerox machine hit the market in 1949, 13 years after xerography was patented. Blogger Tim Kastelle calls this the "long 'X' of innovation diffusion." It's a fallacy that innovative ideas spread quickly. The best use of an idea or invention is not always obvious at inception.
(4) Good Idea: Malicious Compliance
The best ideas have a compelling vision that resonates intellectually and emotionally. Goals, metrics, and strategy minus commitment, support, and engagement will fail. Mandatory compliance rarely works. Those who feel powerless (or pissed off) may sabotage your idea or exact amusingly creative revenge. It's one thing to "go live" with a product or service and another to inspire people to use it. Take Facebook timeline, Facebook Instagram integration, SOPA, or IT failure within any given large corporation. Huge uphill battles. Resistance to change can kill good ideas. You need influential customers and champions who believe in your vision and wield clout.
(5) Good Idea: Wrong Audience
Should McDonald's try to market to health nuts? We respectfully suggest "no" -- BWOIT (big waste of investment and time). For years, Madison Avenue was locked into a misguided "Chronic Youth Syndrome." Old Spice reaped huge benefits when they switched their target from men to women (surprisingly, their primary purchasers). Unilever's Dove didn't best the category until they abandoned their ageless Hollywood standard beauty message and started targeting "real people." Failure to understand and empathize with your target customer (and their needs) spells failure for any business idea. Engage people who value the utility of your idea, offer solutions, exceed (and predict) expectations, speak their language. For instance, if you want to target "early adopters," avoid Facebook pages and other laggard social media networks. Early adopters don't need much convincing -- they like to discover new things and patently ignore "average Joe" social media. The onset of big data -- public and customer data -- has the potential to perfect business models, improve business operations, and increase idea-to-market efficiency. Making sense out of that data -- managing, manipulating, monitoring, and mastering it -- will increasingly define market value.
(6) Good Idea: No W-O-M
Diffusion of innovation (crossing the chasm to achieve a “tipping point”) is driven by persuasion and key stakeholder relationship building. Failure to build word of mouth buzz indicates a structural failure in your business model. Smart companies and successful ideas get people talking. According to Andy Sernovitz, author of "Word of Mouth Marketing," there are four basic rules to generating word of mouth: #1 be interesting, #2 make it easy, #3 make people happy, #4 earn trust and respect. Want an idea to live to see the light of a new day? A happy, expressive employee and customer is your best advertisement. Mark Schaefer's "Return on Advertisement" and Geoff Livingston's "Marketing in the Round" echo the same sentiments. It isn't rocket science; aim for delight and awe.
(7) Good Idea: No Internal Coherence
The world's most innovative companies are highly invested in alignment and making smart capability choices -- optimizing effort, people, and resources to develop and nurture ideas, to gain competitive advantage, to compete in a differentiated way. Booz and Company research (June 2010) suggests that companies that demonstrate strategic coherence -- those that begin with internal strengths then focus on building a very narrow set of innovation capabilities and align them with their corporate strategy - outperform the competition. 44% of companies whose innovation strategies are clearly aligned with business goals delivered 33% higher enterprise value growth. That's significant. Bad business plans, the wrong organizational design, and management/leadership missteps all lead to lack of coherence.
(8) Good Idea: No Collaboration/Sponsorship
Collaboration -- within and with external partners -- fuels innovation. GE Global Research participates in 300 research collaborations at any given time. A 2009 Duke University study funded by the National Science Foundation found that smaller companies, in particular, can dramatically increase their innovation competence through external collaboration -- enabling them to even outperform their strongest and largest competitors. That same study suggests that collaboration can bolster big company reputation and reinforce what they already know. Internal collaboration is equally important. Ideas that lack a persistent, consistent, influential, and passionate internal innovation champion will probably die. Insights passed from creator to idea champion, department to department, vendor to vendor are influenced and modified along the way. Bad parents, bad child. Don't let good ideas get handed off too early. Inspire others to develop and raise them right.
(9) Good Idea: No Budget
Simply put: underfunded ideas fail. Not 100% of the time, but often. Too often. Financial aspects are one of the hardest innovation hurdles to overcome. Innovation is inherently high risk and commercialization (the path to profitability) can be rocky and long. Financial constraints and opportunity costs can become a huge issue. Most companies want to make easy money, rather than wait on returns. As a result, unfunded startups are often unable to sustain good ideas and many industry giants are unwilling.
(10) Good Idea: Crappy Luck
Sometimes good ideas meet with crappy luck. Any combination of the above -- force majeure -- errors -- individual lapses in judgement -- market rises and falls -- can cause idea failure. That's why you need to be resilient and vigilant when it comes to innovation and idea implementation. Successful ideas are groomed by folks and companies that are both proactive and reactive -- democratic, educratic, and dictatorial -- capable of evaluating history, forecasting the future, and creating new, unexpected outcomes. Fate can be a cruel mistress but it can be guided, even manipulated.
The good news? Failure is crucial to success. And good ideas lose to better solutions. But in the end, innovation isn't just about novelty or new ideas. Simplification, reinvention, leveraging under-utilized resources, and incremental, continuous improvements can produce innovative solutions. Successful companies manage incremental and bold, disruptive initiatives simultaneously. Our goal, as we go forward, will be to highlight solutions from inspiring innovators. We hope you will join the conversation.
Category: Idea Management
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