Innovation: it’s the word seemingly on the tip of every tongue at every company in the country, from CEOs to managers to employees back up the chain, everyone wants to be more innovative.
And for good reason. As a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce flatly puts it: “Innovation drives economic growth. This is one of the most consistent findings in macroeconomics, and it’s been true for centuries.”
U.S. innovation isn’t something that started with Amazon and Google, it’s been an inherent part of our economy since the nation’s inception. Yet we often find ourselves unable to take the steps necessary to truly drive change and push things forwards, whether processes, products or giving big ideas the light of day.
Why? There are some common obstacles that many businesses face when trying to instill a culture of innovation, but they can be overcome. Here are three of the big ones that you can start addressing right away:
That’s the way it’s always been done

There might not be any single bigger killer of innovation than the phrase above.
As John Hall writes for Forbes, “Past results should never be used to predict future success.” This is even more true in today’s economy, where emerging technology has created lower barriers to entry. Dominating a market, no matter how long it’s been, means little in today’s disruptive marketplace.
Only about 12 percent of companies that were on the Fortune 500 in 1955 are still around, and that list is expected to continue to shift in the coming years. Staying ahead of the curve is imperative, and the best way to do that is to foster innovation from top to bottom.
Harvard Business Review suggest the remedy is “to begin thinking like the people who are best at innovating and dealing with the unknown — serial entrepreneurs.” As HBR argues, there is nothing more unknown in business than starting a company from scratch.
It’s easy to rest on things that are still working, and being innovative doesn’t mean you kill off successful strategies. But it means that those things aren’t going to work forever, and unless you are the one pushing new ideas forward, someone else eventually will.
Lack of follow-through
Coming up with new ideas is actually the easy part. The hard part is giving those ideas a full lifecycle to test out their viability.
According to one recent survey, 95 percent of respondents said innovation is a C-level priority, yet 44 percent reported their business invests less than 2 percent of annual operating budgets in innovation and 63 percent said their company didn’t have a formal innovation-management structure in place, as reported by CIO.
And according to CBI, while everyone agrees that innovation is important, 78 percent of corporate strategists focus on incremental changes.
Many innovative ideas simply die out before they ever see the light of day, especially in larger corporations.
To combat the lack of follow through, you need a formalized innovation process and clear communication around it. From top to bottom, the message of innovation should be communicated often and consistently. It’s important that what the CEO says is echoed among managers, otherwise how can you expect employees to take heed?
Formalizing innovation might sound like an oxymoron, but you need to have a process in place where real resources are being devoted to it. You never know who might have the next big idea, so creating a formal space for ideas to formulate and possibly receive resources is critical to taking innovation to the next stage.
This could take the form of a Shark Tank like process, where anyone can pitch their idea, and if it’s good enough, it will receive a certain amount of investment. In the long run taking these small risks will pay off, as the highest performers also tend to be the biggest innovators.
Focusing on technology instead of people
In the modern world we often equate innovation with technology. Unfortunately this can lead to a product failing even when it seemed to have all the right things in place.
Trying to solve a problem by identifying a technology gap is thinking with the wrong end in mind. As Deb Owen writes, “innovation begins in the same place one begins converting need into demand. It is the birthplace of demand generation. It begins with people, and requires empathy.”

Instead of trying to come up with a shiny new piece of tech, start with a human problem. You can have the coolest little device that tracks every time you blink your eyes, but what problem does it solve? Why are you creating it? These questions are based in humanity, not technology, the tech is there to help you solve the problem.
This also applies to your innovation strategy. When hiring try to get a sense for whether potential employees are content with the status quo or are comfortable with a shifting environment and taking risks.
When sourcing ideas, open it up for everyone, no matter what level they hold in the company. Great ideas come from humans, and from a diverse set of opinions and backgrounds putting those ideas in check. Data is great and can lead you in certain directions, but the spark of creativity is a uniquely human trait that will take you a long way towards innovating.
It can sometimes become frustrating, especially for larger companies, when you’re trying to instill a culture of innovation but unable to harvest the fruits of your labor. There’s a good chance of the items above — or even all three — are hampering your innovation efforts.
The key is to put real resources behind it and make innovation a clear, shared vision among everyone in the company. Formalizing it as a process will make it a priority and allow your employees to start taking steps towards creating a culture that’s ripe for innovation.
We also hear bringing in donuts every now and then helps, but that could just be wishful thinking.
Related posts:
· What does innovation really mean?
· How to spark innovation in healthcare