The Innovator’s Challenge: Fighting Back

The Myth of Serendipitous Innovation
May 12, 2014
Filtering Ideas to Find the Very Best Ones
May 26, 2014

The Innovator’s Challenge: Fighting Back

Even though companies want innovation, resistance to it is strong. After all, innovative ideas, by their very nature, are risky. They are likely to cause some form of change, and people are naturally fearful of change. A new disruptive innovation might be seen as a threat to someone’s job or their status in the organization. People worry that a highly innovative project might steal away some of their resources in terms of budget and manpower.

Even though companies want innovation, resistance to it is strong. After all, innovative ideas, by their very nature, are risky. They are likely to cause some form of change, and people are naturally fearful of change. A new disruptive innovation might be seen as a threat to someone’s job or their status in the organization. People worry that a highly innovative project might steal away some of their resources in terms of budget and manpower.

Even the leaders within your company may resist change. They might worry about the riskiness of a project and whether or not it’s going to work. No one wants to be responsible for a failed project.

Your customers sometimes resist innovative ideas and the change that goes along with it. A new product or service might cause them to have to change their habits. An innovative product might require special training or customer support. Your innovative idea might cause them to have to do things differently with their customers.

So how do you deal with resistance? First of all, don’t view resistance as a negative, as something that you have to overcome or defeat. Instead, embrace resistance as a potential benefit to your project. Use that resistance to stimulate healthy discussions and constructive feedback. By challenging your ideas, people are actually helping you strengthen them. They’re pointing out the negative aspects and soft spots in your idea. That’s a huge benefit to you, because now you know where you need to improve your idea. Without that resistance, you may never have known these issues.

The second big challenge you should expect as an innovator is competition for resources. Companies have to make choices on where to invest resources to create growth. Think of any company as a portfolio of potential projects. A company might invest in a new advertising campaign, or a new sales program, or perhaps a new technology, or the company might invest in your idea. One thing’s for sure – there’s never enough money to go around for everyone’s project.

So what can you do to earn your share of the budget? You need to understand that managers invest in projects the same way investors buy stocks in the stock market. They look at the track record of the people involved in the project and whether they’ve been successful in the past. But even more importantly, they look at the future potential of a project. What will this project produce today, and what is the pipeline of innovative ideas right behind the project to keep the machine moving?

Those teams or individuals that have a track record of success and the healthiest pipeline of new concepts are going to get the most money. What that means for you in practice is that you have to innovate continuously. Don’t put all your chips just on today’s project. You need to spend some of your time and resources generating new concepts, even if those concepts might be years away from getting investment dollars.

As you generate new ideas, you also need to make people aware of them. Create visual images of your new concepts, or build small prototypes. That helps bring your ideas to life. It gives you a way to show off your pipeline and the long term potential of your business unit.

Being an innovator is one of the most rewarding aspects of any job in any career field. After all, “The world leaders in innovation and creativity will also be the world leaders in everything else.”