21 situations when you should not innovate

January 7, 2013
January 7, 2013

This originally appeared on LinkedIn. You can follow Gijs van Wulfen here 

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Apollo 13 is a failed mission that can be instructive.(Nasa.gov)

Innovation is so popular, you might get the impression it’s the right management instrument for every organization. As innovator, I know it´s not.

To illustrate, let’s take a look at historical expeditions and why many of them failed. Expeditions that never succeeded due to the cold, heavy storms or starvation. Expeditions like that of John Franklin, whose entire fleet perished while looking for the legendary Northwest Passage in 1845. Or those who were not well prepared or inexperienced like Andrée who set out for the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon in 1897. Or expeditions that suffered from design faults and equipment malfunctions like the Soyuz 1 in 1967 or Apollo 13 in 1970. Or expeditions that lacked the right leadership and team spirit like the expedition leader Charles Francis Hall who was poisoned by his crew in 1871 on a Polar expedition.

Drawing from the learning experiences of both successful as well as failed expeditions, I have compiled a list of situations when you should not innovate. I am aware that this can be provoking. It’s meant to be. This is where innovation starts: opening people’s mind, challenging current opinions, habits and practices.

21 situations when you should not innovate:

  1. When you are sure your market is not changing in the coming five years.
  2. When your clients are even more conservative than you are.
  3. When your old formulas are still giving great risk-free results for the coming years.
  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 don’t receive enough money and manpower to do it.
  7. When your company is in a short-term crisis.
  8. When your organization is working at full capacity to meet the current huge demand.
  9. When everybody says: “Innovate!”, but no one wants to be responsible.
  10. When you´re clueless about what you´re looking for.
  11. When there is no real business need and it’s only nice to have.
  12. When you can’t form a capable harmonious team that really goes for it.
  13. When there is no support at the top.
  14. When the people in your organization are not (yet) prepared to break their habits.
  15. When people in your company are lazy; content to copy from others.
  16. When the organization doesn’t have any kind of vision about its future course.
  17. When long term planning means looking three months ahead.
  18. When everyone fears failure.
  19. When everyone will attack and ridicule the newness of an idea.
  20. When important stakeholders will block it at any time.
  21. When your latest innovations are so successful and still need further exploitation.

So what is the moment to innovate? Well that’s when you don’t recognize any of the circumstances above. It’s when there is an urgency to innovate and the organization is financially well and dedicated to complete this process of at least 18-36 months. Be aware though. I learned as a young manager that you can invent alone, but in an organization you cannot innovate alone. You need an awful lot of colleagues and bosses to make innovation happen. That’s because after the ideation of your product, you’ll need to design it, to develop it, to prototype it, to test it, to produce it, to sell it, to invoice it and to service it. The successful way is to innovate together.

So, keeping these situations in mind, remember to wait for the right moment, as you’ll only have one chance to start innovation for the first time.

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