Why is everyone dissatisfied with innovation?

Over the last ten years—both in my practice as an innovation consultant and in the literature—I’ve seen a recurring theme among people paying attention to innovation in large companies. Consistently, they rank innovation among their highest priorities and consistently, they’re not happy with how it’s going.

Why aren’t they happy? Of course it’s going to vary by person and by company, but I’d be willing to bet these are among the most common reasons:

They’re not satisfied with the return on their investment in innovation. As far back as 2008 57% of the 3,000 executives BCG surveyed about innovation said they were dissatisfied with the financial return on their investment in innovation. The 2017 issue of that same survey showed this concern is exacerbated for respondents that identify their companies as “weak” in innovation—76 percent are dissatisfied with return on innovation spending. There’s obviously some chicken/egg here, but regardless, it’s clearly a longstanding problem with massive room for improvement.

They’re not confident in the decisions they’re making. Sixty-five percent of senior executives that responded to a McKinsey survey said they were somewhere between “somewhat” and “not at all” confident in the decisions they make related to innovation.  I’ve seen the downstream effects of this lack of decisiveness. One director of R&D for a consumer products company told me his team was stretched too thin because they didn’t have a basis for saying “no” to ideas—at least not one they were all confident in—so they kept working on everything.

They worry about a mismatch in perceptions between senior executives and people on the front lines of innovation. A client with 20 years of experience developing new ventures in a large firm told me, “I know in my heart that the mismatch between leadership’s perceptions and mine is our biggest problem.” Another said “I’ve exhausted myself trying to get on the same page with my CEO.”

TL/DR: expectations aren’t being met; decisions are being second-guessed; resources are being wasted; and teams aren’t on the same page. I only pretend to be a therapist, but that seems like a recipe for unhappiness.

Under those circumstances in other corporate functions, you might take a hard look at metrics—but that’s often not the case with innovation. At Commodore, we have some theories as to why, and are borderline obsessive about helping companies change course.


Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash