What can derail the innovation journey? Recently, I finished a 3.5-day Innovation Bootcamp. In the end, I was asked an interesting question with a different look and perspective of innovation, now and in the future. The participant asked what challenges are facing innovation. After answering the question for the group, I put more thought into what I’ve seen in the past, is happening today and can persist in the future. In today’s show, I will examine in more detail what I see as the 4 challenges facing innovation that innovators need to pay close attention to and address.
Ethics in Innovation
Over the years, there have been many companies making promises and claims that were not true or half-truths. A number of them have been very high profile market players like Theranos. Poster child type companies that toe ethical lines and cross them creating innovation skepticism and pessimism in customers, investors, and markets. Whether you cross the ethical lines or have perceived to, the damage is done with confidence destroyed. This puts a negative perception on innovators/entrepreneurs as greedy people focused on making some quick money.
Why are ethical lines crossed though? Many times it is driven by ridicule and fear of failure. as well as not gaining the full potential of what may be defined as success. We need to do something to change the nomenclature of fear of failure through our education system, society in general and organizations across industries. Why was it such a big deal when Theranos crossed the line? They had created a compelling story and marketed it with no slowing while assembling a Board of Directors of who’s who of the world. But the challenge with the Board was none of the members had real sophistication around the risks, challenges and how to execute for breakthrough innovations. They had no Innovation Sophistication where they had:
- Been intimately involved in innovation lifecycles – personally experienced it hands-on
- Understood challenges and risks with paths to address
- Developed and launched breakthrough ideas/innovations
- Dealt with unknowns and may have had to pivot
Innovation sophistication doesn’t mean you took a company IPO or were sold for high multiple and big dollars. It is the years of experience toiling in the innovation trenches where you build a sophistication, insights, and wisdom to navigate an innovation journey and have sustained success.
Unrealistic Expectations for Innovation
When you set unrealistic expectations people lose confidence and innovation outcomes diminish. In innovation many times we overstate and overpromise a capability creating an expectation bar that is hard to follow through on. We all have done it. If you underestimate you may not get the traction with the funders you need to gain appropriate funding. It is a fine balancing act of over and under-promising and setting ill-fated perceptions early on. For breakthrough innovations, it takes patience—law of patience. You have to have the intestinal fortitude to progress forward with expectation balance incorporating patience in an ecosystem that has very little patience.
Many today use the ‘Rule of 18’ to manage the innovation journey. However, this diminishes breakthrough opportunities and creates short-sightedness inflating potential capabilities, timelines, and sales. It does have some value in setting expectations, securing incremental funding (especially for companies that normally would have not received funding), incremental progress, enhancements, and capabilities–but not the highest return breakouts—Killer Innovations. The best path is to set expectations early, with a balanced view of what is achievable while providing the highest potential for a breakthrough. Be careful not to cross the lines of expectations and lose credibility.
Availability of Funding for Innovation
Raising money has always been one of the hardest things to do and today it’s more competitive and demanding then it has ever been. If you’re not in the hot trend space of the day you start off with a huge disadvantage to overcome and need to be very precise in your targeting of the right fit investors. The characteristics of entrepreneurs range, but most are in the fast lane category stretching the limits to gain traction and quickly building and flipping their innovation. With the dynamics of the market, investors and innovators the ‘Rule of 18’ quickly become the default. A dangerous zone for innovators and markets as you limit the opportunity to gain breakthrough and killer innovations.
Many innovators and investors fall into the ‘first to market’ mentality which time has proven to be rare, and not necessarily the most profitable path. Iconic names today like Google, Facebook and Apple weren’t first to market in their categories, they just made them better. As I always say the difference between a good idea and a great one isn’t about the idea, but almost always about the timing.
Characteristics Investors Look For to Invest
You have the full package and can demonstrate that you:
- Can articulate a compelling story that makes it clear you know what you’re doing
- Have a broad market view with a unique insight
- Are plugged into the market, know the customers and sensitive to market timing
- Know the challenges, risks and understand how to adjust
- Envision the impacts of your product, service, and solution today and into the future
- Manage expectations with balance—passionate, realistic, but also have an element of the BHAG
Most importantly you need to be very clear on your execution. As I always say, Ideas without execution is a hobby and I am not in the hobby business. Funding is not an easy path, just as you work to create that next innovation, you need to also approach your funding with creativity. Step out and apply creativity to your funding structures. Think through all the possibilities to make it work such as:
- Customer or channel partner investing
- Leveraging convertible debt
- Seeking those interested in non-governance investments
Spend some time learning your needs, financial structures that work for your innovation and company, who are the right investors and what are the market permissions that give the best chance to get funded.
Government’s Role in Innovation
I’ve been inspired since I was a child from the incredible innovations driven by the Government and long term focused private labs that reinforced my desire for inventing. From the Space Program to DARPA and the Internet. We need inventions and innovations that are a result of more long term projects. There must be a big stretch goal, coupled with patience and appropriate funding. Investing for discovery and global competition and not only financial gain. This emphasis has gone by the wayside and needs to be revitalized.
Long-range innovation has declined drastically in the Government as well as in Corporate’s comparatively to the past. The government has outsourced more of that R&D and innovations to short term focused and profit-oriented organizations. This can have a more negative than the positive impact. Today, China R&D spending is off the scale. To get a competitive advantage, breakthroughs Government and Corporates need to build back that R&D and long term innovation backbone.
Overcome the 4 Challenges to Innovation
These 4 challenges change and impact progress, discouraging innovation and slowing it down or preventing it from ever happening. The short term ‘flip it’ approach won’t lead to true discovery. It will only drive the fear of failure with setting unrealistic expectations, lack of appropriate funding, bad investments, questionable behavior, and unethical actions. We need to work to change the game so we can create breakthrough innovations and discover things we never imagined possible.
To learn about overcoming the four challenges facing innovation, listen to this week’s show: 4 Challenges Facing Innovation.