A common difficulty with implementing an innovation is the human factor. An analogy is drawn with changing behavior through training.

A common difficulty with implementing an innovation is the human factor. One way to understand how to deal with this challenge comes from a management course that I once took.

The subject was “improving staff through training” and it focused on two key issues. The first was that you will never see an improvement unless you first address the motivations of your employees. This is pretty obvious and doesn’t need much discussion. It involves a combination of challenge, praise, support, teaching and delegation.

The second issue was more interesting: How do you move your staff outside their comfort zone and keep them there? What I was taught was brilliantly simple: Before your “students” have settled into their new comfort zone, you need to move it again with an even bigger challenge.

As innovators, our role is to move colleagues, customers and entire organizations out of their comfort zones to embrace new products, services and business models. The analogy isn’t perfect, but I suspect that they require a similar approach. Here’s what this theory would imply:

  • Should innovation be done in stages and how rapidly can we ramp up the commitment of our employees accordingly?
  • What targets should we set for the number of new products we need to develop? Maybe we need to be more aggressive.

This “comfort zone” theory leads me to an inescapable conclusion: You can’t hang your hopes on single one-off innovation projects. Innovation has to be maintained over time or the company will settle back into a state of stagnation.