How to Overcome Innovation Sabotage | The Garage Group

How to Overcome Innovation Sabotage

In an environment of stagnating growth and increasing disruption, BigCos are putting greater importance on innovation as a source of competitive advantage and growth. As these companies prioritize innovation, they are primarily focusing on developing approaches to accelerate consumer needs identification, through derivatives of Design Thinking and/or Jobs To Be Done methodologies, and idea development. But this is only part of the innovation equation for getting ideas to market and into the hands of consumers.  

Through our experiences we have made a critical observation: that team dynamics and organizational conditions are often overlooked or undervalued factors in increasing innovation success rates. And when neglected, the unintended consequence can lead to a form of innovation sabotage. 

How BigCos commit Innovation Sabotage

They Over Index their Innovation Efforts on Idea Development

In the world of startups, VCs routinely state they invest in teams as much, if not more, than ideas. Some go as far as to say they will invest in an A-team with a B-idea, before they would invest in a B-team with an A-idea. Investors recognize the importance of team dynamics to fuel idea development. The combination of hard-skills obtained through experience or formal training, and the soft-skills like passion, conviction, curiosity, and collaboration are a powerful formula for navigating the ambiguity and inevitable setbacks they will encounter in the innovation process.

Unfortunately, many BigCos over index their innovation efforts on idea development, and neglect to put the necessary effort and consideration into the team selection. Their strategy for staffing programs is often based on functional formulas and capacity, rather than passion and skill specific to the work challenge. The unintended consequence of this formula-derived, capacity-driven approach to staffing is that it often perpetuates functional bias, and individuals feel overly compelled to defend work versus advance it objectively. Individuals with good intention, but a lack of clarity to their roles or contribution, will consciously or subconsciously interject personal agendas, bias, and questions into the program schedule in an effort to find meaning, validate their position, and ensure project metrics align with role specific rewards. Even the best intentions, when misplaced, can create swirl. Misplaced questions, bias, and siloed reward systems can be innovation killers, often sending the most promising ideas into a vortex of team conflict and data collection with minimal measurable progress. This is often where Burn Rate or rather Burn-out sets in. 

They underestimate the importance of organizational conditions

Another common pitfall companies will make as they build their innovation capability is to underestimate the importance of creating conditions in the organization for innovative work to thrive. We’re not referring to space planning or office layout, although that is important. They make the mistake of thinking previously successful organizational structures, decision making processes, and reward systems will be effective at supporting the innovation their businesses require in the near and distant future. Eric Ries writes about these conditions and the need for change in detail, in his book The StartUp Way

The Garage Group has experienced a steady rise in BigCos across multiple industries asking for support in applying and adopting entrepreneurial conditions to their organizations at a c-suite and division level.

We recently partnered with a A F500 Retail Company that was losing market relevancy. We brought their Senior Executive team together (from across their multiple brands and business units), to align on what would need to be true to move the consumer to the center of their decision making. In partnership with The Garage Group, they embarked on a development program to build their listening and observation skills, and importantly, their mindsets in looking at the consumer need, through the consumer lens rather than through their own. They then cascaded this new approach and mindset through their teams, and equipped them with the skills and tools needed to truly enable what has become a breakthrough shift in their business. 

Evidence tells us that sustained success requires the adoption of new mindsets and behaviors, which are nurtured through organizational structures and processes, and enabled by leadership. The details for how these elements come together, will be largely informed by existing systems, and the BigCo’s ambitions.

How to Overcome/Avoid Innovation Sabotage 

The Garage Group has found the following tactics to be simple but impactful in avoiding Innovation Sabotage.

  1. Staff projects/programs based on hard-skills (specialized SME- Subject Matter Expertise based skills) and soft-skills (passion, curiosity, collaboration) needed to deliver the work. If you find yourself being assigned to a team, take the time to understand the skills and strengths of the team you’re on.
  2. Be intentional about onboarding. Make sure everyone is clear on the role they will play in achieving the project’s success measures.
  3. As you or your team is working through an innovation challenge, take a few minutes to take inventory of the questions, beliefs, and biases you hold in the context of the work. Ask yourself: Are they fueling the team and work to achieve breakthrough? Are questions being posed appropriate for the stage of development the program is in?
  4. Leverage an Assumption Based approach to learning. Ensure everyone’s needs and assumptions are reflected, and there is alignment to the assumptions that are most critical.
  5. Adopt a Metered Funding model (learning fuels funding cycles). This is a proven approach to aligning teams and leaders to a common set of learning goals, as they reduce risk, and build a body of evidence to support the work.

If this article was helpful, or if you found success in leveraging one of the tactics listed, let us know. We’d love to hear your story, and help you on your journey.

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