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Posted by Mark Tuckwood 2 May 2017 Innovation Consultancy

With innovation proving to be a long-lasting buzzword, the desire to be innovative shows no sign of slowing. Yet, as with any aspect of creating a business strategy, there are a number of common mistakes that organisations large and small make when it comes to innovation. Making mistakes along the way is inevitable, but what you learn from these mistakes could be the difference between the ultimate success of your strategy and it falling by the wayside.

Here are five of the most common innovation mistakes, and what organisations can learn from them.


There is a tendency to believe that innovation means discovering the next scientific breakthrough, revolutionising the way organisations thinks or fundamentally altering the landscape of your industry. While this kind of disruptive innovation of course holds value, the notion that all organisations can be constantly disruptive is misleading. 

An article by Management Today argues that while it is important to consider what impact disruptive ideas will have on the future of your organisation, ‘there’s value in day-to-day ‘incremental’ innovation too – finding new ways to improve your business right now.’ Incremental innovation has huge value in improving processes, streamlining efficiency and perfecting products, and mustn’t be undervalued in your strategy.


It is easy to believe that, in order to entrench innovation into your organisational culture, all you need to do is select a handful of people who are responsible for innovation and hey, bingo, your organisation will soon be overflowing with new ideas. 

Management consultant Frazer Bennett told Management Today that ‘you don’t solve the challenges of innovation by creating an innovation department.’ While it may help you come up with some new creative ideas, ghettoising innovation in this way can often prevent it from becoming imbedded in your wider company culture. Breaking out of these innovation silos is a valuable lesson for institutionalising long term innovation and producing better ROI.


Just as innovation doesn’t come from a single team sat in an isolated innovation bubble, many organisations and their leaders make the mistake of believing that innovation is essentially a top-down endeavour. The tendency to think that managers and executives have more time, more flexibility in working and are more qualified can lead them to believe they are better placed to view the bigger picture and spur innovation.

Singapore’s Business Times recently argued, however, that in fact good managers should always create an environment where innovators thrive. They should be consciously helping their team members to be more efficient and to nurture in them the capacity to think innovatively. Given that it is often those team members who best understand an organisations day to day processes and the challenges faced, it is here that true innovation can be found. Putting the mechanisms in place to allow this grass roots innovation to grow is essential, so as not to over focus on innovation from above.


A key element of encouraging innovation is the capacity to take calculated risks, to move outside of your organisation’s comfort zone and to challenge the conventional. Yet this ability to take risks is often severely hampered by an organisation whose culture discourages or even punishes failure.  

Harvard Business Review (HBR) quoted renowned innovator Thomas Edison as saying ‘if I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed.’ HBR suggests given that ‘inside most companies, working on something that “fails” commercially carries significant stigma, if not outright career risk’ it is in fact ‘no surprise that people play it safe!’ Differentiating between failure as a result of lack of due care or poor attitude, and the somewhat inevitable failures that make up the earliest stages of generating new ideas, is important as it allows organisations to create an atmosphere which is tolerant of calculated risk-taking and in which innovation can thrive. 


A related mistake when it comes to innovation is not to make any mistakes at all. Mistakes should be viewed as something positive which can be learned from, as they are in many ways an essential ingredient in the recipe for innovation. An article by British newspaper The Guardian spoke with a number of entrepreneurs who all argued that the success of their current innovations was due in large part to earlier mistakes they made and learned from.

Whether those mistakes were expanding product offerings too quickly, getting lost in areas that were not the organisation’s expertise, or not accepting offers of funding and investment when the injection of cash and influence was much needed, were all mistakes cited by the entrepreneurs. Many of these lessons learned can of course be applied to intrapreneurs within an organisation, and so it is important to remember that, whatever the mistake, the ultimate goal is to learn from it and use this as an impetus to drive further progress.

As global innovation specialists we aim to help and encourage people and organizations to become more nimble, boosting their ability to generate ideas. We bring pace and focus to your innovation initiatives using our unique innovation techniques, which are constantly being developed by our professional licensees. If you’re interested in becoming a licensee for the think team, contact us here.

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