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How to beat the 90% innovation failure manifestation

“Innovation is the process of creating new ideas and turning them into new business and social value” - Langdon Morris1
Part 2:
Jac Spies, Chief Advisor at Praesignis, discusses innovation investments, why they fail, and how to beat innovation failures – in this three-part insight series.

In my previous article on “Why 90% Innovation Initiatives Fail in Well Managed Organisations”, we identified why most innovation investments fail in well managed organisations; Because the characteristics, knowledge bases, and skills of functional managers are different than that of the characteristics, knowledge bases, and skills, of innovators.

Functional managers love established systems, fixed policies, standard operating procedures, predictable outcomes, and minimum-risk decisions, where innovators love change and the excitement of trying something different.

The four most devious mindset traps:
  • Fixating on the way things are now, on the status quo;
  • Short-term thinking at the expense of the long term;
  • Too many incremental innovations and not enough breakthroughs;
  • Ignorance of the meaning of change, the rate of change, and the impact of change.
If standardisation has triumphed over innovation it could be an indication that the past has overtaken a company blocking its way into new futures.

How to beat the 90% innovation failure manifestation

Langdon Morris found that the innovation culture comes into being when people throughout the organization actively engage in the three different types of activities that are critical to the creative endeavour:
  • People that frame compelling questions, explore hidden factors, conduct rigorous experiments, come up with new ideas, and then explore them to see if they have the potential to become genuine innovations, whether large or small, breakthrough or incremental. They are curious, looking persistently for surprises to develop into ideas, and then into value-adding insights and innovations. This is what innovation’s Creative Geniuses do;
  • capital to support it. They define a firm’s goals and policies to favour innovation. This is what Innovation Leaders do;
  • And people that provide support, guidance, and tools so that the creative process itself can flourish. They support innovators and manage the innovation process by helping creative people overcome the obstacles that otherwise impede their innovation efforts. They also manage the innovation portfolios. This is what Innovation Champions do.
The following diagram from Langdon Morris shows clearly the inter-relationships between these three types of people.

Diagram 1: The interrelationships between the three key roleplayers to achieve viable innovation initiatives.
Diagram 1: The interrelationships between the three key roleplayers to achieve viable innovation initiatives.

Langdon Morris has found that innovative organisations actively identify these people and enable them as champion teams to identify, develop, and deploy innovation opportunities.

Jac Spies – Chief Advisor
Jac Spies – Chief Advisor
One usually finds in large organisations that there are many Creative Geniuses scattered throughout the organisation in the different disciplines and levels. Innovation Leaders, on the other hand, are senior employees that are involved in strategic goal-setting and setting policies to enable the “strategy-to-idea-to-innovation” process. And lastly, the most important roleplayer, the Innovation Champion is the kingpin who sets and controls the Innovation Portfolio, who has strong leadership attributes, and is comfortable in risk management.

The Innovation Champions are obviously skilled in many different innovation methodologies and tools, as each innovation initiative requires its own set of methodologies and tools. There is no such thing as one process and one toolkit that fits them all. Systematic innovation is hard work in identifying firstly the real job to be done, then, mining different bodies of knowledge, analysing, probing, and brainstorming; followed by evaluating the different solutions for the most viable option, before shifting to beta-testing.

Realising that viable innovations do not fall out of the sky, nor are attained by a fixed recipe, the Innovation Champion needs to decide on the specific process or processes that need to be put into place and managed for each innovation opportunity or initiative.

The next article in this series will deal with these processes that are taught in the BCom degree on the Management of Innovation at the Da Vinci School of Managerial Leadership.

More details can also be obtained from Jac Spies at or at 082 903 6006.

1Langdon Morris (2001). Permanent Innovation. Innovation Academy (USA)

28 Jun 2017 17:00