With an abundance of innovation success stories circulating the net and popular business publications, when do we hear about the other side of the coin – when is innovation not the answer to our organization’s problems? Gijs van Wulfen provides 21 examples of when we should avoid innovating. What are your experiences?

Innovation is doing things drastically different or doing drastically different things. It is the main theme of popular management books and blogs, like this one. A lot is going on at the moment in innovation, like ‘Sustainable Innovation’, ‘Business Model Innovation’, ‘Service innovation’, ‘Collaborative Innovation’, ‘Participatory Innovation’, ‘Social Innovation’, ‘Employee Driven Innovation’, ‘Brand Driven Innovation’, ‘Agile Innovation’ and ‘Frugal Innovation’.

You might get the impression that innovation is the right management instrument for every market, for every organisation at any moment. Well in my opinion innovation is not. That’s why I have made a list of 21 situations when you should not innovate. It is provoking. I am aware of that. But isn’t that where innovation starts: having an open mind for people challenging present opinions, habits and practices?

21 Situations when you should not innovate:

  1. When you are sure your market is not changing the coming five years.
  2. When your clients are even more conservative than you are.
  3. When your old formulas are still giving great results the coming years at no risk.
  4. When brand – and line extensions bring you a lot of extra turnover and profits.
  5. When the urgency to innovate is completely absent.
  6. When you do not get money and manpower to do it.
  7. When your company is in a short-term crisis.
  8. When your organisation is working at full capacity to meet the huge demand of today.
  9. When everybody says we have to innovate and no one wants to be responsible.
  10. When you don’t have a clue what you are looking for.
  11. When there is no real business need and it’s only nice to have.
  12. When you don’t have a clue what’s going on at customers.
  13. When there is no support at the top.
  14. When people in your organisation are not prepared (yet) to break their habits.
  15. When people in your company are lazy, just copying others work.
  16. When there is no vision where you want to go in the future.
  17. When long term planning means looking three months ahead.
  18. When everybody fears failure.
  19. When everybody will attack and ridicules the newness of it.
  20. When important stakeholders will block it at any time.
  21. When you’re latest innovations are so successful you should exploit them first.

So what’s the moment you should innovate? Well that’s when you don’t recognise the circumstances above. Beware though. The wise lesson I learned as a young manager is that in an organisation you cannot innovate alone. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to make innovation happen. You have to wait for the right moment, because you can only start innovation once for the 1st time. So look for moments when there’s a sense of urgency at the middle – and top management that we need to do something different. And you have to let them discover themselves, which different innovation opportunities are attractive, can be developed and are realistic to be chosen. This practical wisdom I used as one of the fundamentals of the FORTH innovation method, which you can use to ideate innovative products, services and business models.

Ps. If you have any other arguments when you should not innovate please share them!

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author:

Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. The method is published in his inspiring and practical book Creating Innovative Products and Services’ (Gower, 2011).

He helps organisations to kick start innovation by facilitating the FORTH innovation method and advising companies on their innovation strategy, process and organisation. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organisations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method. His dream is to make FORTH the most used method for the front end of innovation around the world.

Gijs is a both presenter and chairman at several (international) innovation conferences, like the ISPIM Conferences and the European Conference on Creativity and Innovation. He is also founder of the yearly Dutch Innovation Conference on creating new products: ‘Nieuwe Producten Bedenken’.