8 Common Corporate Innovations Mistakes & How to Prevent Them


Many people think that innovation springs from divine inspiration, pure luck, or chance. Creativity is like lightning in a bottle: very rare and hard to duplicate, so it can be hard to figure out the rules to it. There are many popular myths surrounding creativity in business, but none of them have scientific evidence. Let’s talk about some of those mistaken views and how to prevent them from derailing your own innovation efforts.

Expectation 1: The more ideas you have, the better the innovation  you’ll make

“Throw enough spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.” is not a process that’s repeatable or even really desirable. It’s easy to come up with a dozen or even a hundred ideas, but what separates good innovation from something that’s doomed to fail isn’t how many ideas you’ve had before you start. It’s how well you execute on the idea that you’ve come up with.

The formula of success helps you understand if you’re going to be able to create a lasting innovation:.

Innovation + Plan + Action = Success

Action is the most difficult part because in this case, we are being asked to work. To carry out the effort. People don’t like to do work without a guarantee of reward.

So how do you plan an effective action to drive innovation or, really, any change in your life?

The action requires:

  1. Collaboration: The ability to work as a team is essential. Collaboration means killing silos, setting cross-functional teams, and determining how your new cross-functional team will juggle priorities, share resources, and maybe even co-finance their effort. 
  2. Planning: When you execute something without planning, you will not get the most out of it. Try to plan out the stages of idea execution. When should you gather materials? When does the innovation get validated? When does the creation of the innovation start? When should the team start marketing it? It’s harder for people to get involved in “random” innovation because they’re thinking about what the strategic objectives of the business are, while innovation is running on a separate track. Innovators need to understand what the organization is looking to achieve, then prepare a plan which is aligned to the strategic vision.
  3. Risk Management: Think about what if something doesn’t work? How much risk you are going to take?

I am not talking about avoiding risk. Innovation requires a tolerance for risk and accepting that things will be hard before they get easier. I am talking about how you can perform risk management. You should find a way to keep moving forward when the path is less obvious. Risk is measurable and quantifiable and is useful for describing innovation investment in a predictable way.

For instance, if you drive to Boston City in the snow, you can’t control all the risks associated with making the trip. But you can choose the type of car you drive and the speed at which you drive it.

Expectation 2: Open innovation isn’t hard 

The most common mistake of companies or organizations regarding innovation is to believe that it will solve all problems without effort, cost, and planning. They think a few innovative ideas will set things right without shaking up the company overall. Find a few creative geniuses and let them do their thing.

In fact, like any area of the effort, it is a discipline with rules and foundations. 

If you execute it in a disorganized way, it won’t work. If you plan, place the right people, and have the support from the higher-ups, it may turn out great. But even then, it brings change. It forces your organization to grow. Some people and even some entire teams are going to be uncomfortable with that. 
Open Innovation requires systematic scanning for external knowledge. It requires a process, discipline, and specific metrics. Firms need a wide range of approaches to maximize the returns to internal innovation – not just feeding the company’s product pipeline, but also outbound licensing of IP, patent pooling, and even giving away technology to stimulate demand for other products (This may sound crazy, but read up on the idea here:

Challenges of open innovation: the paradox of firm investment in open-source software)

No investment can guarantee returns, and no innovative project is guaranteed to succeed. Innovators need put time, money, and hard work into bringing change to an organization and then wait for the result. Win or lose, this is a significant cost saving over the time and money you would invest pursuing ideas through traditional channels. But just because it’s faster and simpler doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The ROI provided by open innovation extends far beyond the numbers that can be added. There are many non-quantifiable benefits to the process. Open innovation:

  • Fosters a more innovative research culture within the organization.
  • Increases innovation success rates.
  • Grants organizations access to professionals who are experts in new fields and can provide unique solutions.
  • Evolves and enhances an organization’s innovation capabilities through the facilitation of cultural change and producing new ways of innovation.
  • Improves internal collaboration and the research process.
  • It allows organizations to work swiftly and become more nimble with available resources.
  • It creates a less stressful environment for employees that boosts production.

For adequate management of innovation, we must see it for what it is. It grows your organization to be able to better cope with the modern challenges it is faced with

Expectation 3: innovation is obvious

The fact that innovation works do not mean that innovative ideas are necessarily easy to take advantage of. Some of the most notable innovations of the computer age were created by groups that did not know how to take advantage of them. GUIs, computer mouses, multitasking operating systems, desktop publishing…all of these were created by innovation hubs like PARC and Bell Labs, and they had no idea what to do with them.

Someone else–Steven Jobs, in fact–saw the possibilities that were unlocked by all of these tools and bundled them into a single innovative product that was much more than the sum of its parts.

Innovation capitalization & exploitation has cycles.. A product or service is created, it is launched to the market, it succeeds, it grows, a culture is created, the idea is sold for a while, but then that product becomes obsolete and innovators appear to attack the idea. What was once innovative is now more moribund  Everything new is old, and someone needs to find an unexpected new opportunity again.

Telling your people, “Hey, you have 1 day off a week to make something cool” is not, in itself, a way to discover innovation. Google is famous for that, yes, and 20% time there is how we got tools like Gmail, but it is also how we got Google Wave and Google Plus. Don’t think that innovation comes as easily as giving your engineers time to dream up weird stuff. Innovation comes when your people dream up something as wacky as Google Wave, and you launch it, and it fails, and they remain working at your company as a senior leader 15 years later. Be okay with failure, and then you’ll discover that your team is okay trying out things that aren’t obvious.

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innovation comes when you look at old ideas from new angles. When you see behind something you always took for granted. Innovation comes when you are radical. It doesn’t matter if you tell your employees “have this 20% of the time every Friday to innovate”. The only thing that matters is when you let your employees try things you haven’t authorized and fail at doing them.

Expectation 4: bottom-up innovation is the best

Leadership in innovation tends to follow two opposing models: either top-down or bottom-up. The first one happens when vision and innovation is driven through chains of command, the second one is when the process is facilitated by low and middle-level managers.

Surely bottom-up is better because young blood with wild ideas in their minds is where real innovation originates, right?

Not always. 

Innovation–really big innovation–requires energy and buy-in from the bottom up and high-level air cover from the top down. Disruptive innovations bring new business models. Uber, Apple, Netflix, Yelp, Tesla, Spotify delivered new business models. It can’t happen without top-down navigation and leadership. Moving fast and creating new experiences that a team has never experienced requires focus and efficiency. On the other side, all incremental innovations can trigger and implement from the bottom-up.

The top-down approach starts by redefining the mission and values of the organization, then pushes the changes to the organization at large. The bottom-up model, on the other hand, tackles the issue from a different direction. It starts from the people, processes and informal structures that have developed in your organization. Bottom-up innovation identifies barriers to innovation one by one, and often sets about fixing them in an incremental way. 

Leverage both approaches. Start making change and let the collision happen. This is where the best “new” is created: Then adopt that innovation from the top down. Communicate the purpose. Explain clearly the long-lasting change that you expect the innovation to create. 

Expectation 5: Great innovation opens new markets instantly

Innovation requires education and broad socialization to people. It can be a pain in the butt that way. Innovation needs to find a market, momentum, and early adopters. Take Tesla for example. When Elon Musk launched, the idea of an electric car was the kind of thing that hippy eco-friendly nerds wanted, but they’d never be practical for a normal driver. . So Tesla launched with a huge event so people know that “the future is here”. The same with Steve Jobs, he showed the first iPhone and explained in what seems an obvious fashion now that the device was a computer with the Internet in your pocket. Massive work goes into explaining innovation to your enduser if you want to be successful.

A major task in innovation marketing is the marketing of new products/ services and business models. It is a continuous task. It involves both internal and external marketing. You should convince the company’s staff about the new innovation before you can  expect them to be able to convince a potential customer

Expectation 6: Innovation comes from Isolated Geniuses

It is very easy to idealize and attribute to a single person the merit of achievement. Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Orville Wright. They are all geniuses who, all alone, changed the world’s relationship with technology!

Except, of course, they didn’t.

Mozart or Picasso had family and teachers who taught them. Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison employed hundreds. 

Innovation is NOT the act of solo genius. iPhone is not Steve Jobs. It’s not even Jony Ive. Siri isn’t a Steve Jobs invention either. It came from a 30-year long research program led by the US department of defense at a not-for-profit research center

In the absence of standards, it wouldn’t be possible for innovators to scale their innovations in different geographies, over decades and centuries. Standards help a massive number of people focus on the goal. 

Truly productive innovation requires a meeting of minds, from different worlds.

This collision of worlds brings something new which doesn’t take place in isolation. Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios, called it “collective creativity”. In the Harvard Business Review article, he said “Creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working together to solve a great many problems. Creativity must be present at every level of every artistic and technical part of the organization.”

In fact, learning to collaborate, giving, and receiving feedback about your work can be more important than your own intelligence. Innovation does not come from isolated geniuses’ head. It comes from a problem on the field that somehow is solved in a new, better way.

To generate creativity, one needs to be free in one’s thinking of the constraints and barriers of the ‘real world’.

Expectation 7: Innovation consulting is about hiring creativity and geniuses to bring the change

Innovation consultants are all geniuses whose immense brains power and unbelievable engine of creativity and wisdom, granting their clients a brief insight into how a truly superior mind works. 

Whenever I try to say that kind of thing, my wife reminds me of the last time I forgot to put the top of the ketchup bottle before shaking it.
Innovation consulting isn’t about hiring a super genius, no matter what innovation experts like me may say. 🙂

The simple fact is innovation consultants succeed (when they succeed) because they’ve brought an outside viewpoint to a problem that the company has lived with for so long they may not be able to look at it from a new point of view. When you bring a fresh perspective to a problem, you may get results you never expected.

Rock & Roll was not created by classical musicians. Modern dance was not developed by the reigning dancers and choreographers. The manufacturers of horse-drawn carriages did not invent the car. And even though I was not there, I’m reasonably sure that the one who first chose a club to defend himself in a fight was not the strongest member of the clan.

So if innovation consultants aren’t the smartest super-geniuses ever, should you even hire one? Yes and No. Innovation consultants who do more than talk can help you narrow down the scope of a challenge ahead of you. 

You are lost in the sea of opportunity. The innovation ecosystem is steadily growing with various players and possibilities. Great innovation consultants will provide a tailored selection of innovation resources. It’s not a slide, report, or team-building exercise that brings ROI. It’s the investment in innovation and the return. Can your innovation consultant work on a success fee and small retainer? Answer this question in your head.

Expectation 8: Innovation must be something completely original

Chris Guillebeau, author of the book “The $100 Startup”, explains that before thinking about money, it is important that your business idea is a convergence between passion and value. IHe explains that successful people are a mixture of what they love and what others (their potential customers) are interested in. The intersection of somebody’s passion and a customer’s pain can be an edge where old things become huge game-changers

There is an old myth about intellectual property. People believe that a creative idea belongs to the person who found it first. On the other hand, history and empirical research show evidence that new ideas are usually combinations of old ideas that are combined to create something more helpful, useful, or even more cost-efficient. We all know that electric cars, touch screens, and radio devices are all “old” tech. They’ve been around for decades. From a technological point of view, Tesla, Android, and even Nest could have launched in the ’60s., But customers were not ready to adopt that tech yet.

Take the smartphone industry as an example. Smartphones have settled to a well-defined set of doesn’t lose its characteristics: rectangular, front and backside cameras, 5-inch screen on average, etc. If you want to check, how the best to conduct the product innovation process, have a look at this post


“Product innovations that matter”

Will it change in the future? Will it lose its shape or become something radically different? Unless a transformative innovation comes along, no. And it’s due. “Smartphones” are not an original idea anymore. The industry keeps evolving it by increasing the speed of its internet connection (3G, 4G, 5G), renewing the operation system, and so on, but what a piece of long-established tech is waiting in the wings to completely change how we communicate, again?

Innovation is about solving an old problem a new way with the support and buy-in of people throughout an organization, and then educating the market until it catches up with you. If that’s the focus of your current innovation efforts, you’re off to a good start.

If not? Let’s talk. 🙂



If you are interested in working with Arek Skuza for a business project, workshop, speech or presentation, please fill out the form here.

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