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Five Reasons Why Innovation Processes Fail

by Brianna Sylver

I’ve been working in innovation for 15 years now. I’ve supported many different organizations (small, medium and large) to define, develop and execute innovation processes in their organizations. I’ve learned a few things in that time.

When innovation fails, most people want to point to the product or service itself as the reason for the failure. Yet, too often, this product or service was never set up to succeed simply because the team championing its creation failed to do the appropriate “in between the lines” work around that innovation to sufficiently enable its success.

I don’t want YOU to do that. To that end, here are five reasons why I often see innovation processes fail within organizations.

1. The learning focus is incomplete.

Innovation is, first and foremost, about people. You create innovation to better serve and support people (your current or potential customers) in meaningful and relevant ways. You hope this better service and support will translate to more revenue for your organization.

At this point in time, many organizations get that a customer-centric approach is a HUGE key to what will make them successful and have practices in place to connect regularly with them as a result. A variety of tools and disciplines are leveraged to get at this information. Personally here at Sylver, we use tools and best practices of market research, design thinking, creative problem solving and user experience to help define the problems to solve or the “jobs to be done” by any innovations that come to the market for chosen customer targets.

But, this customer-centric learning focus is only one piece of the pie. An innovation’s success or failure is dependent on its execution. Execution is, in turn, dependent on the alignment of internal stakeholders around how to deliver against the values that prove meaningful and relevant to customers.

Too often I find that organizations do not spend sufficient time surfacing the hypotheses, limiting beliefs and hard constraints of internal stakeholders that will inadvertently drive both the willingness and ability to execute on any innovations emerging from any process or program instituted.

Bottom line, for innovation to succeed, equal attention must be paid to surfacing “insight” around your internal stakeholders (the people in charge of execution) as it does around your customers themselves.

2. Stakeholder/Executor buy-in is an afterthought.

Building on the last point, when you fail to involve your execution stakeholders in the journey you often create seemingly blue-sky solutions (not in a good way!). Yes, those solutions might promise great value back to your customer, but some aspect of those solutions are undoable right now for the organization. They either don’t align to key constraints of the initiative (technology, budget, etc.) or this new project has no prioritized slot in an executor’s calendar. What happens as a result? The solution is shelved for a later date (maybe to see the light of day again or maybe not). Regardless, momentum is stopped short and if you’ve been in the championing spot for this innovation, you’re likely feeling defeated. That feeling of defeat doesn’t motivate one to stay on the innovation train.

3. There is misalignment between the wishes for and actions around innovation.

I see teams struggle a lot with the spectrum of innovation. Many want to create disruptive or game changing innovation. Some even have the processes and systems in place to support that. But, too often, where those game changing innovations get cut off at the knees are the systems employed by the organization to (1) award money for new products and services that they bring into their portfolio and (2) in the evaluation procedures around which products/services are bringing revenue into the organization vs. not.

Too often, metrics for product innovation are flat. Incremental innovation and game changing innovations are awarded money and evaluated equally, which essentially puts game changing innovation at a strong disadvantage. It’s harder to define a market size for a category or product that doesn’t exist for instance. It’s hard to realize established category growth projections when you’re creating a new market or cultivating a new customer target.

Bottom line, if being a game changing innovator is part of your growth agenda, you need to have separate processes in place that allow those types of innovations to get their fair shot.

4. There are too many caveats around what makes an innovation a good innovation worth further pursuit.

Most typically innovation initiatives are evaluated by the immediate expected ROI they will bring to the organization. Too often I’ve seen companies discount initial ideas because they are not immediately expected to return $1M in revenue, for instance. Again, this is particularly problematic for those game changing innovations that can often benefit from an iterative, test and evolve type of development model—to hone the idea and its value proposition for the market.

5. The company has an urgency to have new innovation in the market … like yesterday.

Urgency (and specifically pressures around time) can be both a blessing and a curse for innovation. It’s a blessing in that is creates momentum to get stuff done, which is great. It’s a curse when the focus becomes more on meeting an in-market deadline, at the expense of creating a product that truly resonates—in at least a minimal viable product type of way.

I see the “curse” side of urgency show up most often in the initial exploration or discovery phases of innovation. Essentially organizations don’t invest the time or money to sufficiently surface meaty “jobs to be done” in their innovations. When this happens, surface level insight leads to surface level (and weak) ideas.

The “curse” side of urgency can also poke its head out at the Evaluative Stage of the innovation process. Closer in ideas always feel more doable. When unhealthy urgency permeates every innovation project of your company that can also push your innovation agenda into one of more incrementalism vs. a balance of incremental and game changing innovative solutions (what I often perceived to be the ideal state).

The reality is that innovation is not a one-size-fits-all process. Yes, templates of best practice can be used (are used) as reference points. But, culture plays a HUGE role into how an organization should bring innovation to bear within their walls.

These five “in between the lines” of innovation failures are great to pressure test your processes as you move forward in your unique process around innovation. Should you need some support in defining, developing or executing on that innovation process, reach out. We always welcome conversation in this domain.

  • Innovation
  • Innovation process
  • Innovation failure
  • Innovation success

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