The key to innovation success is simple—innovation is nothing without exploration and exploitation.

Innovation is the light every forward-looking organization is pursuing. However, the majority of organizations still use innovation as a buzzword or treat innovation as serendipity. Innovation management has an overall very low success rate. The reasons why innovation failure occurs vary widely, but to dig further, here are a few root causes of innovation failures and some management sentiment to cause innovation blues.

Innovation as a Lip Service

For many less-innovative organizations, innovation is just a buzzword: everyone talks about it, but very few people—especially leaders—are creative enough to live on it and knowledgeable enough to really work on it. Innovation has become a buzzword to the point that those who truly understand it cannot get the real message out through the “hype” and truly implementable innovative change.

Innovation is about utilizing what you already have in a unique and creative way that has not been done before, and using that thing to make the profit. But most organizations cannot walk the innovation talk—to truly get innovation spurred and reap the benefit from it. Management still gets stuck in the comfort zone and keeps “the old way of doing things.”

Lack of Comprehensive Innovation Strategy

Innovation comes with a risk of failure, usually not well-tolerated in a market governed by risk-allergic mindsets. Innovation is costly most of the time. It is not just a new design or invention; the management needs to take a holistic approach to tuning it, tweaking it, changing it in a way that brings the business mid- or long-term benefit.

That is why you should really concentrate innovation on the main issues of your strategy. In highly-innovative companies, innovation is a crucial component of the strategy. A good innovation strategy will always be aware of business strengths and weaknesses, and opportunities and threats, and then set guidelines and take risk-intelligent actions. Therefore, innovative leadership should always have a greater vision in mind and strive to return sustainable development and growth back to the business or the society they are working for.

With a good innovation strategy, innovation management can be iterative, evolutionary, revolutionary, or disruptive, but it must also be marketable and implementable. As you innovate, you might find helpful changes to your strategy. At today’s modern organizations, it is essential to develop a company strategy that encourages realistic innovations which will prove successful in the market.

Lack of Passionate, Innovative Leaders or Practitioners

Creativity becomes significantly more important in an age with advanced technologies because leaders of the future will not be mere automatons, but continue to discover, explore, and improve their surroundings. Innovative leadership relates to intelligence, empathy, idealism, process understanding, communication skills, cultural understanding, influence, and definitely—understanding what is wrong with the status quo.

Great innovative leaders are those who can inspire a culture of innovation, be resourceful, have a clear vision and strategy to manage a healthy innovation portfolio, and identify and develop innovation practitioners. Innovation is all about the madness of solving problems and doing things in a better way. Spotting and scoring individual as an innovator needs to focus on individual capabilities and potential to innovate. Innovators are able to reframe circumstances or conditions around problems and solve them in alternative ways.

Bureaucratic Culture

Culture is the collective mindset, attitude, and behavior. For less-innovative companies, people often get stuck in the “comfort zone,” having “compliance-only” mindsets. Because some business processes and systems designed decades ago are too rigid and slow to change, talent or performance management is not synchronous with innovation management.

Further, companies of all sizes, especially large corporations, are designed to stifle innovation. Because they become too dependent on satisfying corporate regulations or protocols, they don’t get around to developing a culture that fosters or rewards innovation until it is too late.

One of the biggest obstacles to stifle digital flow and innovation is bureaucracy, which is criticized for its inflexibility, inefficiency, siloing, stagnation, unresponsiveness, lack of creativity, etc. Digital management requires a different kind of ‘control.’ For example, to control desired outcomes, keep the end in mind; don’t overly control the process of “how.” They do not focus on hierarchy but on ideas, information, creativity, flexibility, openness, and curiosity. It takes true leadership—with less protocol—to listen to different opinions in the company in order to build a culture of innovation.

Lack of Solid Innovation Execution Capability

Innovation is not a one-time business initiative or an IT project only. Innovation is a disciplined approach to discovering and building opportunities in creating new meaningful sources of value to targeted users. Look at innovation from the perspective of developing business-wide innovation capabilities.

Innovation has three phases: The discovery of a problem or new idea, designing a prototype solution, and the ultimate delivery of a commercially astute outcome.

Thus, the best point of view is to see innovation as a system, capable of delivering organization-wide capabilities. More specifically, building a balanced innovation portfolio is a practical approach for optimizing resource and improving risk intelligence. There are many areas within a company where the innovation process can be applied to create value, including both “hard” innovations such as products/services/processes/business model innovation, and “soft” innovations such as communication/culture/management innovation. The organization must break down outdated rules, battle bureaucracy, and understand innovation as a process, a management discipline, and a differentiated business competency.

Innovation is a sustainable and scalable discipline that can be learned and practiced. Because how an organization orchestrates to generate ideas, manages creative activities, measures innovation results, etc., is determined by how that organization has decided to craft innovation efforts.

To overcome innovation blues, organizations must develop a good innovation strategy, groom innovative leaders and practitioners, shape a culture of creativity, and build a set of innovation capabilities. Innovation is relative and has a context. The key to innovation success is just as simple—innovation is nothing without exploration and exploitation.

By Pearl Zhu

About the author

Pearl Zhu is an innovative “Corporate Global Executive” with more than twenty-one years of technical and business working experience in strategic planning, Information Technology, software development, e-commerce and international trading, etc. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science from the University of Southern California, and she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area for 15+ years. She is the author of the Digital Master book series and the Future of CIO blog.