Innovation isn’t an Idea Problem. It’s a recognition problem.
Here is a great article from the Havard Business Review which examines how businesses so often fail to capitalise ideas and innovations that are right under their noses. The most commonly known example is of Kodak who created the first digital camera back in 1975, but did absolutely nothing about it leaving the door open to Sony and others to quite literally steal their marketplace.
There is also some brilliant behavioral science which studied two groups, both of whom were asked to perform a simple test designed to gauge their implicit perceptions about creativity and practicality by choosing word pairings. Whilst one group were given an assurance that they would be paid for their time, the other group were given some uncertaintly as to whether or not they were going to be paid.
The researchers found that those exposed to a small amount of uncertainty said they valued creativity, but actually favored practical word pairings over the creative pairings. In a follow-up experiment published in the same paper, participants in the uncertainty condition were even presented a prototype for an innovative new running shoe and rated it as significantly less viable than the control group where the uncertainty didn’t exist.
If such a negative bias against creativity is present in times of uncertainty, it might explain why so many notable innovations were initially rejected. The implications for today are particularly relevant and go some way to explaining the conundrum that we see all day, every day in that whilst there has never been such a need to innovate, so few organisations actually do anything about it!
Could it be that the same trend that the study shows is triggering executives to reject or inhibit ideas that could help them gain a competitive advantage?