Conversations with Innovators - Part 4

The things that keep innovation execs awake at night

In this edition we’re looking at the things that are keeping our the innovation leads we speak to awake at night…not literally, of course (although quite possibly!), but the areas that provide both challenges and opportunities within the context of their role in their organisation.

These concerns highlight the multifaceted nature of the innovation role, requiring a mix of strategic planning, effective communication, risk management, and adaptability to drive success.

Staying relevant

  • This is an obvious one…but that’s true for a good reason.

  • They understand that failure could result in being perceived as outdated or out of touch, which in turn could affect the company and long-term sustainability.

  • Heads of Innovation worry that their company might not keep up with these changes, leading to a loss of market share, eroded customer loyalty, and competitive advantage.

  • The rapid pace of technological change and shifting customer preferences means that companies must continually evolve to remain relevant.

ROI on innovation

  • Innovation initiatives require varying levels of investments in terms of time, money, and resources.
  • Innovators we’ve spoken to are concerned about the potential for these investments not yielding the expected returns, both in terms of immediate financial gains and the growth trajectory of the company.
  • The challenge extends beyond just monetary aspects, including missed opportunities, wasted efforts, and lost time that could have been allocated to more other tasks.
  • Justifying the allocation of resources to innovation projects underscores the need for thorough analysis, well-defined success metrics, and clear alignment with the company’s strategic objectives.

Lack of resources

  • Those we spoke to understand that innovation requires more than just creative thinking—it requires funding, skilled personnel, and time for research and development.
  • Limited budgets, time constraints, and a shortage of talent can hinder execution, particularly when it comes to tackling ambitious and transformative initiatives.
  • The concern revolves around the potential compromises that might need to be made due to resource constraints.
  • Those we spoke to underscore the importance of resource allocation strategies, cross-functional collaboration, and leveraging external partnerships to supplement internal capabilities.

Resistance to change (internal and external)

  • Innovation leads talk about their projects often disrupting established workflows and processes, which can create resistance from employees or stakeholders who are comfortable with the way things are done currently.
  • Internally, colleagues and partners can be hesitant to adopt new technologies or methodologies due to fear of increased workloads, uncertainty about outcomes.
  • The other concern is that stakeholders such as clients and partners might resist changes that impact their accustomed interactions with the company.
  • Overcoming this resistance involves effective change management strategies, open communication, education about the benefits of innovation, and demonstrating tangible results.

Market disruption

  • The rise of competitors that introduce new technologies or innovative business models is a significant concern.
  • Heads of Innovation worry that their company could be caught off guard by these changes, which could have a direct impact on their market position, revenue streams, and overall business sustainability.
  • The fear of losing market share to more agile and adaptive competitors drives them to engage in continuous competitive intelligence, scenario planning, and proactive exploration of potential industry shifts.
  • They aim to position their company as a proactive influencer rather than a passive observer of market dynamics.

Short term focus

  • Innovators often face pressure to deliver tangible results within short timeframes, especially during economic downturns like the present.
  • This can divert resources and attention away from longer-term initiatives that may not yield immediate financial benefits.
  • The concern innovation leads lies in striking the balance between addressing immediate operational demands and nurturing innovation as a driver of sustained growth.
  • Innovators tell us they understand that while short-term successes are essential for maintaining stability, neglecting longer-term innovation can result in missed opportunities to position the company for future success and resilience.

Intellectual property and security

  • Developing new IP and protecting it is a concern.
  • Heads of Innovation are not only focused on generating ideas but also ensuring that these are safeguarded from unauthorized use or duplication.
  • They are concerned about data security, privacy breaches, and potential legal disputes related to IP infringement.
  • Managing these involve implementing data protection measures, establishing clear ownership and usage policies for IP, and navigating legal landscapes.

Cultural shift

  • Cultivating a culture of innovation across the organization is often a priority.
  • Changing an entrenched culture is a challenge, needing to overcome resistance to change and foster a mindset of creativity and experimentation.
  • The worry lies in shifting employee attitudes and behaviours toward being more comfortable with change and valuing innovation.
  • Innovators tell us this involves creating spaces for idea generation, rewarding risk-taking and learning from failure, and aligning the company’s values with a culture that encourages continuous improvement and forward-thinking.

Global economy

  • Economic downturns or uncertain market conditions can (and are) impacting innovation budgets and the company’s ability to invest in and take risks on new.
  • Heads of Innovation worry that economic instability could limit the company’s financial capacity to fund innovative projects, slowing down progress and stifling the company’s ability to seize new opportunities.
  • This extends to the potential reduction in consumer spending, shifting market demands, and disrupted supply chains that could affect the feasibility and timing of innovation initiatives.
  • Balancing short-term cost-cutting with long-term innovation is a balancing act that is requiring strategic foresight and adaptability.