Why Innovation Fails : Four Unmet Needs

By Alec Corthay

Did you know 8 projects out of 10 take longer (and cost more) than expected? Interestingly, the same rate applies to innovation.

The rate of failure for startups (and intra-preneurial ventures) is well-known, and reasons are documented. Yet in dealing with innovative executives, R&D managers, project leaders, and experienced start-upers, I have observed 4 unmet needs that are never discussed.

These explain why most innovation and projects fail to deliver on their promises, within time and budget.

When bringing something new into the status quo, one must wage a battle of delivery

Ideation is just the beginning of a long journey. Great ideas die young. Why? Innovation can be understood as bringing something new into the status quo. When innovating, one must wage a battle of delivery.

That battle, from my current standpoint at least, is fought over mindsets and, to some extend, over past experiences. Indeed, experiences (and education) create mindsets, and mindsets create behaviors.

Experiences create mindsets, and mindsets create behaviors

In most startups failure, mindsets are pinpointed (CBInsights study, Top 20 Reasons Startups Fail, date unknown).

What behaviors lead to project failure? Reasons include: no market need (Did you not know business is about serving needs?); team unfit in terms of skills, maturity and/or character issues; bad product or delivery (What does it reflect about your character?); customers ignored; losing focus; conflicts; burn out; being impassionate; failing to express one’s needs…

These behaviors point to innovation-killing mindsets. If the following list feels weird, please trust me. You will start to recognize behavior patterns once you pay attention to people’s mindsets. As you enter a project meeting, just ask yourself : “What is now in my colleague’s mind?”

Impaired mindsets produce a feeling of not making progress.

Here are four paralyzing mindset I have recognized (this is a “draft” list, let me know your thoughts):

  • Invisibility: “I feel isolated. I don’t feel empowered. Rather, I feel misunderstood or unrecognized. I am invisible to my boss (or client, or colleagues)”;
  • Indecisiveness: “I feel confused. I don’t see things with clarity. I’m in the dark. My ideas are conflicting with one another”;
  • Vicious circle: “I am stuck. My thoughts are trapped”;
  • Disenchantment: “Even though my job used to be fun, I have lost the magic, and I feel disenchanted”.

Impaired mindsets produce a feeling of not making progress. This leads to disengagement.

There is a way to address human fragility. A targeted approach will unstuck most people (and innovative projects):

  • Mindset #1 talks to me about the need for belonging in a team where I feel invited and valued;
  • Mindset #2 talks to me about the need to find a role model, someone that will impart new methods and disciplines in me;
  • Mindset #3 talks to me about the need for insight, and for third parties who keep me accountable;
  • Mindset #4 talks to me about the need to (occasionally) step down, in order to gain rest and perspective.

And that is what I believe innovation is about: getting people (and ideas) off the ground, and beyond the status quo.

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