Why innovation is hard…how to make it easier

innovation 3If you don’t change, you die…so the maxim goes. Then why is it so difficult for organizations to implement innovation in organizations? Part of the explanation lies in the fact that innovation is not a simple problem that can be solved. A number of paradoxes that exist both within the individual inventor and within the organizations in which the innovation must take place. Developing the ability to identify the most relevant paradoxes and manage them will determine success.

Innovation paradoxes

Issues come in at least two varieties: problems and paradoxes. Problems have solutions that when in place, the issue goes away. In short the problem is solved or not. Paradoxes don’t have solutions, but polarities that constantly shift and must be managed. Paradoxes are never solved.

Below are several innovation paradoxes.

Polarity A
Good/Too much
Polarity B
Good/Too much
Has the essential knowledge/yet may be closed to new possibilities
or Beginner’s mindset
Curious and open to new possibilities yet not enough knowledge
Approaches that have worked and may be more efficient/and limited to what has been done in the past
Or New
Openness to change/unnecessary trial and error
Take a risk
Willing to undertake new possibilities/yet unfocused work
Or Play it safe
Reduce risk/yet conventional may prohibit necessary experimentation
Take full advantage of current products/services/capabilities and/yet unable to provide the resources for innovation
Or Explore
Openness and resources to discover next generation possibilities/yet not take advantage of core strengths
Easier to get things accomplished/yet maintains the status quo
Or Change
Creates vitality and potentially creates resilience/yet lack of structure and security create insecurity that limit progress
Cross functional collaboration
Strong support among functions/yet too process oriented
Or Cross functional competition
Strong functions/yet can sub-optimize the project
Experiment and take chances/yet what may work in small setting not in larger organization
OR Scale
Widely execute new approach /yet may encounter great resistance
Professional/technical/corporate guidelines
Ensures meeting professional standards of performance and yet/can illuminate anything but conventional practice
Or Freedom to ignore guidelines
Creates new set of possibilities and greater experimentation/ yet may violate or create
The givens
Provide guidelines that create the container for the work to be done/may be too constricting
Or What has to be unlearned
Makes it easier to create something quite new/yet may create inefficiencies


The IPAD vs. The Samsung Galaxy Note

One of Steve Jobs’ design principles (a given) was that use of the stylus was outdated. He mandated that his devices would function without them. His assumption was that a stylus would hamper ease of use. He also dictated the size of the phone would be limited to what could easily be managed by input with two thumbs.
Over the last several years Samsung challenged these assumptions (unlearning). It created Tablets with styluses and increased the size of its phones. Last week I purchased the new Samsung Galaxy Note 2014 because of the stylus. A keyboard now is less necessary. It is easy to take notes and many functions become simpler on the devices with these capabilities. Many people prefer larger cell phones because they are now able to more easily read content. Inputting commands is easier because of voice recognition.
Therefore some of the principles that initially created the Apple distinction in the marketplace have to be reexamined in the light of new technologies and competition. Perhaps they should no longer be “givens.” Yet not originally having had these givens, Apple is less likely to have distinguished itself. Knowing when and how to make the necessary transitions to balance the paradoxes is both the science and the art of innovation.

Yet I find few leaders actually using paradox concepts and tools despite the cost and profit ramifications. 
The example illustrates the fluidity of the challenges to effectively manage paradoxes. What appears to make logical sense at one point in time later becomes an impediment to progress. The concept and tools of paradox make it easier for people to leave their notions of right and wrong and their convictions in order to more easily shift their thinking and more effectively collaborate with those who hold diverse viewpoints.

Where can we go from here?

Paradoxes create tensions, anxieties, uncertainties that must be managed. Identifying and subsequently managing the relevant paradoxes helps those in charge of innovation more effectively manage the many pitfalls that are likely to be encountered along the way. The unfortunate news is that most leaders of change have not learned the concept and principles of paradox. The good news is that there are a number of powerful and practical tools that can facilitate success. Many are easily learned and applied.
If you are interested in learning more, here are some resources:

  • The Innovator’s Dilemma, Clayton Christensen provides context for understanding several strategic paradoxes associated with innovation
  • The Strategy Paradox: Why Committing to Success Leads to Failure, Michael Raynor also provides significant insight regarding organization strategic paradoxes.
  • My new book, Getting Unstuck: Using Leadership Paradox to Execute with Confidence,describes practical tools that can be applied to organization, role, leader, personal, and societal paradoxes
  • Stanford Innovation Review provides an overview of some of the paradoxes associated with social change.

What are the paradoxes that are keeping you and/or your organization from sustainable success?? I will be writing some examples in future blog posts and would be happy to help you.