The Key to Innovation: Overcoming Resistance

The Key to Innovation: Overcoming Resistance

Just as actions speak louder than words, implementations are more compelling than ideas. The infinite varieties of how people cheat on their diets and exercise regimes is a microcosm of the organizational frictions that innovations can generate

CIOs should be investing less time in brainstorming good ideas and more time in targeting the sources of resistance to change.

By far the most common question I get from CIOs and their direct reports is some heartfelt permutation of: "My IT group - our company - needs to become much more innovative. How can we do it? How should we do it? Help."

Those questions are invariably followed by a tragic but true innovation tale: The well-meaning Jedi Knights of IT are thwarted by organizational Darth Vaders ruthlessly intent on crushing digitally enabled change enterprise-wide.

I nod sympathetically and brace for what's almost always said next: "Michael, I really need to come up with better ideas faster."

Without hesitation, I say what I always say to these frustrated innovators: "No, you really don't. Honest."

Nothing in the business world is more overrated than a "good idea". Nothing. I've never gone into an organization anywhere in the world that didn't have - with a little prompting and encouragement - more good ideas than it could possibly use. Indeed, most firms enjoy a surplus - a glut - of good ideas. As a rule, a glut of something makes it less valuable, not more. Economics 101.

By contrast, I've never gone into an organization where the process of implementing good ideas was fast, cheap, easy and successful. There seems to be a terrible scarcity - a corporate famine - of good implementations.

Simply put, good ideas are cheap; good implementations aren't. Experience teaches that aspiring IT innovators don't need better ideas that make more sense. They need better implementations that make - or save - more money. If organizations can boost their "return on innovation" by investing more in good implementations than in good ideas, then that's where their capital should go.

Despite the fervent hopes of bright people with brilliant ideas, successful innovation can't be divorced from successful implementation.

The best insights into innovation cultures don't come from the quantity and quality of its ideas but in the nature of the resistance to their successful implementation.

Grasping the essence of an innovation culture is astonishingly easy. Simply fill in the blank. Whenever a good idea is proposed, you'll find the core values of an innovation culture in the words that follow this common phrase: "We can't do that because . . ."

Whatever reasons, excuses and evasions people use to explain away why good ideas can't be implemented is the organization's innovation culture. Full stop. We can't do that because . . . it's too expensive, the boss won't like it, the lawyers won't let us, it's not in the budget, we don't think it will work, the vendor will charge us too much for changing the code, marketing will take it from us if it actually succeeds, the woman championing it is a credit-hog, IT shouldn't be leading this kind of initiative, it distracts us from our main mission and so on.

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