Where’s Your Innovation Friction?

Where's Your Innovation Friction?How should firms develop the organizational structure, culture, and incentives (e.g., for teams) to encourage successful innovation?

When it comes to creating an innovation culture, often people make it far too complicated. If you’re part of the senior leadership team and you’re serious about innovation then your job is simple – reduce friction.

If you’re serious about innovation and you’re not a senior leader, then your job is to do what you can to convince senior leadership that innovation is important. Then, gently help your execs see the areas of greatest friction in your organization so they can do something about it.

When it comes to creating a culture of innovation, the most frequently cited area of friction in organizations is the acquisition of resources for innovation projects (the infamous time and money). Senior leaders serious about innovation must eliminate the friction that makes it difficult for financial and personnel resources to move across the organization to the innovation projects that need them (amongst other things).

But this particular impediment is just a part of a much larger barrier to innovation – the lack of an innovation strategy. When senior leadership commits to innovation and sets a strong and clear innovation strategy then policies and processes get changed and resources move.

A couple of years ago I ran a poll on LinkedIn asking people to identify their organization’s biggest barrier to entry. 566 people responded and 58% of respondents identified either the absence of an innovation strategy or the psychology of the organization as the biggest barrier. ‘Organizational psychology’ came out on top with 32% of the vote, with ‘Absence of an innovation strategy’ a close second (26%). Other choices in the poll included – ‘Organizational structure’, ‘Information sharing’, and ‘Level of trust and respect’.

See the poll results and comments here.

A second major area of innovation friction is the movement of information. Too often there is information in disparate parts of our organizations that remains separated and unknown to the people who need it. Organizations that reduce the friction holding back the free flow of relevant information to where it is needed will experience a quantum leap in not only their product or service development opportunities, but in many other parts of their organization including sales, marketing, and operations.

So, what are the areas of friction that are holding your organization back from reaching its full innovation potential?

What are the barriers to innovation that have risen in your organization as you struggle to maintain a healthy balance between your exploration and exploitation opportunities?

I’ve explored the idea of barriers to innovation further in my book Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. It’s been called “accessible and comprehensive” and companies have been acquiring it in bulk to both identify and knock down barriers to innovation, but also to build a common language of innovation.

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Braden KelleyBraden Kelley is a popular innovation speaker, embeds innovation across the organization with innovation training, and builds B2B pull marketing strategies that drive increased revenue, visibility and inbound sales leads. He is currently advising an early-stage fashion startup making jewelry for your hair and is the author of Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire from John Wiley & Sons. He tweets from @innovate.

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4 Responses to Where’s Your Innovation Friction?

  1. rajendra raja says:

    Friction starts with a great idea not being allowed to go higher up the management ladder ( for sponsorship or higher level encouragement) or go down the hierarchy ( for geeks or passionate guys to show Proof of Concept that such an idea is doable) , as something worthwhile.

    I find 70% of innovation ideas go into limbo in medium and large organizations. Neither killed nor taken forward. Friction is the reason but no one concedes friction is the cause.

    What is this friction known as???? Major reason of causuality

    • John Wolpert says:

      Good points. I think we often assume that somehow the “good” ideas should always get taken on by the firm. Certainly as a younger me running alphaWorks, often referred to as IBM’s “orphanage” of friction-locked research, I bemoaned the problem. “Why can’t we either quickly decide to take these projects forward or to let them go?” I would say often.

      True story – once I was involved with figuring out how to commercialize IBM’s Clever project, which was the original “page rank” stuff that Larry Page and Sergey Brin referenced in their Stanford paper that preceded…Google. The guys at IBM Research were dying to slap up a public web crawler and simple search engine (this was 1998), and they could have done it in short order. Why didn’t we do that? Because we were blind to the opportunity? Because we were a big, stupid company? No. We had a pretty good strategy that said, “don’t compete with our customers.” Search engine companies buy IBM technology. That was IBM’s strategic intent at the time, and that was the reason we didn’t do it (or at least one of them). Trust me, I know…I was in the room.

      So the point of this story: sometimes (maybe most of the time) we don’t cause friction because it is fun or we are organizationally lobotomized. We do it because our current intentions preclude taking action or refocusing on the new opportunity.

      When you are in a single-threaded, successful company that is just at the start of its growth curve, you’d be pretty close to insane to zip off on orthogonal adventures, and your board will make you pay for it if you do.

  2. rajendra raja says:

    Friction comes when both parties disagree or stonewall. what happens to silent sabotage with keeping things pending?

  3. John Wolpert says:

    I don’t know anyone that gets very far with convincing leaders to prioritize “innovation,” or rather, when they do, leadership does what one would expect: promote “innovation” programs of one kind or another for a while until either success or tough times force a refocusing of resources back to the core.

    The problem is that innovation isn’t a thing. A specific objective coming from someone who is compelled to investigate something off the current path is a thing. If you are an employee of a company and see something out of the corner of your eye that you think needs looking into, then take a look, get specific, explore it as much as you can, and then – when the time comes – get leadership to prioritize the right level of expeditionary forces to investigate. This is a tractable thing. It is specific. Innovation – god knows how we love the word – is not.

    And when leadership either doesn’t prioritize investigating your bright shiny thing over there (or de-prioritizes it too soon for your liking), and you can’t get it out of your head, then you have a decision to make: are you an inert innovator who sees different, or are you an entrepreneur that does different by leaving and starting something that will go after that shiny goal?

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