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Barriers to Innovation (Guest Post)

Today’s post is a guest post written by Kevin Eikenberry.  I’m posting it for a couple of reasons.  First, I like the topic of innovation and I enjoyed Kevin’s take on it.  Second, Kevin is launching a new book today titled From Bud to Boss and I’m posting this as part of their launch “buzz” to make people aware of their new book.  The book is designed as an all in one resource for newly promoted managers to give them a solid foundation of management and leadership skills. I like the book and will likely use it within my own organization.  To celebrate the launch, they have gathered some terrific gifts from partners. To find out about the gifts, please visit http://www.frombudtoboss.com.
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This has happened to you.

You (or your team) have identified a problem and generated some great ideas to solve it. Or perhaps there isn’t a “problem” but a great idea arrives for a new product, service or approach.

Either way the idea, no matter how exciting, is nearly worthless unless action is taken to turn it into reality.

This process of moving something from idea to reality is usually called innovation. And if you have ever been down this road you know that barriers, resistance, excuses and whining can occur on the innovation journey.

That resistance and whining can stall progress and sap the energy that the initial idea created; leaving the innovation lifeless, powerless and all too often incomplete.

Before going any further, understand the underlying principle at play here – innovation is another word for change.

This fact implies there will be reluctance and resistance by some, simply because when you innovate you are, by definition, doing something new. Therefore, things will change.

Now that you know you’re dealing with change, it hopefully will be easier to recognize the common barriers that act as the brakes to any idea implementation process (i.e. innovation or change).

What are some of the barriers? I’m glad you asked.

Here are five in the form of the comments, complaints and whining you might hear.

What’s the big deal, what we have works! Comments like this show you that people don’t see a compelling reason to change. In this case you may be so caught up in the idea itself, or have been working on it so long, that the reasons for the innovation seem obvious to you. When you hear comments like this, it is time to back up and help people see why the innovation (change) is necessary or valuable.

Customers aren’t complaining – they love us! There are (at least) two problems with this logic. First, Customers often don’t complain, they just leave. And second, sometimes they don’t know to ask for something better, until it appears. I mean, did customers know they wanted a laptop, a DVD player or an automobile before that innovation arrived? Your innovation may not be a game-changer like those examples, but the fact remains. If you wait solely for signals from your Customers, it may be too late.

What if this idea fails? The truth is it might. And it is best to acknowledge that fact right up front. However, you want to enlist people’s help immediately in doing all that can be done to assure that the new idea doesn’t fail. As a leader help people focus on the positive result while realistically dealing with every possible option for reducing the chances of failure.

Maybe we need to do something, but not that! Comments like this can be clues to two possible thoughts. First, the one that is actually being stated – this is the wrong approach. If this is the real concern, engage them in the process. If it is early in the implementation, perhaps their ideas can be re-considered and/or integrated. If the process is further along, you can still listen to their concerns. At some point (early or late in the process) you may have to “agree to disagree” on the approach, but ask them to focus on the reasons for the change and ask for their overall support. Second, of course, comments like this could also be meant to camouflage the real feeling that there is nothing wrong with status quo.

It isn’t worth the effort. On a bad day, you might think this is a lazy comment; on a good day, just assume someone is stuck in a routine. Either way, this is a clue that someone just doesn’t want to put forth the effort required to change or innovate. If this is the case, you must help them see the bigger picture, the why or justification for the innovation. At a minimum, help them understand what is really expected of them in the change (which is probably less than they assume it to be).

There clearly are other potential barriers or sources of resistance to any change or innovation. And while the solutions may be longer and more complex than offered here, what is here is a great start.

It’s important to note that when you are working through an innovation you have initiated, the situation may be even more frustrating. Remember to not take these comments or barriers personally. And recognize that being overwhelmed by these forces will work against the excitement, promise and positive energy that you (and others) feel about the innovation.

Finally, remember that these statements (and those like them) contain at least as much emotion as fact. You have the opportunity to use that emotion in a positive way to turn those barriers into acceptance; those whines into winning innovation.

Potential Pointer: Since innovation is a form of change, barriers and resistance will predictably surface when ideas are being transformed into action. Remarkable leaders recognize the inevitability of these barriers and work to proactively reduce them

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Jason Lauritsen