True innovation is hard work and takes time. It needs to be a part of a strategic plan, developed and launched in a deliberate manner. There’s nothing new in that, and few would disagree. But let’s look at some corporate reality. There are two key factors that can essentially kill effective innovation; corporate culture and employee reality.
First let’s look at the corporate culture. Private and publicly held companies are both under extreme pressure to deliver financial returns for the short run. It’s hard to convince shareholders (or banks, or holding companies) to wait two years for something great to occur. Expectations are set on a quarterly basis. With such intense pressure to deliver in the short term, it’s much easier pursue incremental change than to embark on a longer term innovation strategy. Companies will begin innovation efforts with the big picture in mind, but often succumb to the pressure and pursue only those ideas that can be knocked out quickly.
From an individual employee standpoint, the pressure is very similar. Who in corporate America expects to be in their current job two years from now? Even if an individual doesn’t change jobs, the reality is the organization will most likely change around them shifting all priorities and efforts accordingly. What motivates a person to embark on an effort that lasts a long time? The person that delivers a project seems to get the credit, not the one that does the hard work on the front end. Over the course of a typical, strategic innovation project it’s not uncommon to see multiple people at the helm, each adding their own opinion and wanting to put their mark on the effort in case it happens to be successful.
It’s not lack of interest, its lack of vision beyond the immediate future. Companies spend considerable time and effort creating one, three and five year plans. But the initiatives that get pursued are those that can be delivered quickly to show an immediate impact on the bottom line. Can anything be done to shift this mindset? Or are we doomed to a culture of incrementalism?