The really scary thing about innovation

We know that innovation is scary. It should be. We've evolved to learn that it can be dangerous to do things differently, to leave our comfort zones, and to to embrace uncertainty. But we've also learned intellectually that we need to do these things so that we don't get caught behind the rest of the world. These are things that can be identified and expected as we embark on innovation programs.

But I see it a little differently. While I do think it's true that innovation is scary for all the reasons stated above, I think that organizationally there is something else going on. In my experience, it's about control. In an organization, innovation cannot happen in a top-down manner. Yes, innovation programs need support from the top to be realized, but when it comes to actually doing the work - the consumer research, translation of insights, creation of new offerings - this has to happen from within the organization.

This is true of all the other work that happens in an organization as well. Typically the CEO doesn't run the manufacturing line, but there are clear mechanisms in place that will let the CEO know immediately when something is going wrong. These mechanisms - the project schedules, budgets, benchmarks - all enable corporate leadership to stay in control. With innovation projects, these mechanisms are not relevant, and corporate leadership cannot tell so easily if a project is on track.

I believe that this is why it's so common that innovation often defaults to incremental evolution from what exists today; projects are too often limited by what senior management can control in traditional ways. This is not to say that I think senior leaders need to adopt an anything goes attitude when it comes to innovation. Far from it. But they will need to shift their perspective from being in control of, to helping to guide, innovation projects. I have some thoughts on what this can look like, but I'm interested to hear what others think about this issue of control. Does it resonate with you?

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