WITH the slowing of the economy in recent years, many companies put the brakes on innovation in their organisations.

This was caused either through direct intervention or as a result of lower budgets, cost-cutting on research and development or lower growth targets.

Smart organisations, however, are realising that they can no longer not innovate.

Relying on existing processes or products will not lead companies into the future. 

What does this mean? Innovate or else! 

Private companies and government agencies alike must now innovate to step boldly into the future.

So what does an innovative culture look like?

An innovative culture is one where employees challenge existing assumptions, experiment, make mistakes, take chances and then implement new processes, products or thought processes.

Leaders in these organisations also play essential roles in encouraging innovation.

In fact, leaders must drive their staff to challenge current thought processes and innovate.


Innovation obstacles

Of course there are challenges that obstruct the innovation process in organisations. In fact, there are four obstacles:


Missing the target

The target referred to here is the key stakeholders that the innovation is aimed at.

Often, staff get excited about a situation and charge towards generating a bunch of ideas to solve a problem. 

What they fail to do is to survey the stakeholders to make sure that they have a complete understanding of what they actually want.

Developing an innovative solution that nobody wants is pure folly. Research suggests that 50 per cent of innovative solutions are never used because they are prematurely developed.

The next problem is that leaders in organisations do not foster innovative processes. That is, as leaders, they do not ask enough questions or challenge current thinking.

If leaders are not challenging the status quo, who will?


Fear of risk-taking

Following on from an unwillingness to challenge the status quo is the fear of taking risks.

Leaders within organisations fear taking risks because of the focus on the bottom line, protecting revenue and cutting costs. 

Leaders and their people need to be bold and begin to experiment again, move away from the safe pathway and be willing to make mistakes. 

Nobody wants to make costly mistakes, though innovation can still be fostered and encouraged within acceptable risk guidelines.

Innovative leaders understand that failure comes with learning and sometimes is the pathway to bold new approaches.

New approaches are not always perfect, so smart leaders are willing to accept initiatives that are not perfect or proven in their first iteration.

The creative process is to create the idea, while innovation comes when that same idea is tested and improved until the final implementation.


Poor quality ideas

The next problem is the struggle to generate new ideas. Smarter organisations have created innovation units, which are tasked to foster creativity.

Even smarter organisations foster creativity and innovation at the grassroots level, encouraging all staff to contribute to the innovation strategy.

To do so, leaders must be willing to challenge the current way things are done, be open to new ideas and resist dismissing new ideas. Providing training and opportunities to interact with other sections and cross-functional work projects push individuals to think differently, thus sparking new ideas and expanding thought processes.


Improper implementation

There are thousands of creative ideas sitting idle inside organisations because they never got to the implementation stage.

An idea that is not implemented is not innovation. In fact, an idea that is not implemented can create collateral damage, as it may cost the organisation revenue.

Most organisations commit huge resources to preserve existing practices, when with small adjustments, a percentage of the existing budget could be directed to implementing ideas.


Where to next?

The writing is on the wall: If you are a leader in an organisation, drive creativity, implement innovative ideas, take calculated risks and reap the rewards.


Article by Lindsay Adams, an international speaker, senior consultant and innovation specialist with Training Edge International. He has worked with business owners, entrepreneurs and sales professionals across the globe. Contact him at Lindsay.adams@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com.