Innovation Challenges & How They Can Be Overcome

Dr. Gadi Segal, a business partner and a good friend, told me once that “the more therapeutic options you have for a disease, the more likely it is that none of them are really effective.” When I make the analogy to the realm of innovation, I hesitate to conclude that none of the innovation methodologies available are really effective… Let’s just agree that the abundance of approaches and techniques is indicative of the magnitude of the innovation challenges.

Learn about the several types of innovation challenges and how to overcome them

Types of Innovation Challenges 

  Some of these innovation challenges have to do with the process of ideation itself, while others with implementation, some are more relevant on an individual level, and others more on the organizational level. For this discussion, we can define one set of barriers that stop us from coming up with the right ideas (ideation / individual) and another set of challenges involved in the attempt to implement these ideas (implementation / organizational).

Fear of Making Mistakes

Think for a minute about the last time you participated in an innovation session. Think about yourself and about your colleagues. What were the barriers you were facing within that session? Did they have to do with fear of criticism? Perhaps they dealt with the insecurity that comes from not knowing how good your ideas are, or how well they will be received. Were these barriers connected to the fact that some of your ideas might have been a little too innovative? Or was it simply a reluctance to take an active a part in such a public discussion?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you were facing some of the most common psychological barriers to innovation. While some of these barriers are relevant in many types of discussions, others are more innovation-specific. Many of these barriers have to do with our common fear of making mistakes – a fear developed and cultivated by mistake-phobic education systems and organizational cultures.

Cognitive Barriers

There are several innovation methodologies that focus on dealing with these fears and barriers. The most familiar of which is Brainstorming. These methodologies employ various rules and principles designed to mitigate these fears.

You will notice that these barriers are relevant to voicing or sharing innovative ideas that we as individuals have already come up with. These barriers are serious, no doubt, but they have little to do with the actual act of coming up with an innovative idea. The barriers relevant to that elusive phase are quite different. They have less to do with our psychology and more to do with our cognitive capacity.

Structural Fixedness

Let’s take the story of the refrigerator as an example. When this product was introduced to the market (early 20th century), it replaced the previously used ice-box. This simple device used blocks of ice that were put in a designated compartment at the top (the actual “ice-box” that gave it its name) of its structure. The products kept in the ice-box were organized so that the ones requiring colder temperatures were placed higher (closer to the ice), and the ones requiring more moderate temperatures were placed lower (farther from the ice). Does this design sound familiar?

For years, we have been bending down to take out our veggies from the bottom drawer of our modern refrigerator, while the freezer door (which most of us use much less) is located much more conveniently at the top of the appliance. When you think about it now it seems strange and irrational.

Why didn’t the refrigerator industry offer us a refrigerator with the freezer at the bottom and the main compartment above it? And why didn’t we, as consumers, ask for such a design? The answer has to do with a cognitive phenomenon called “Structural Fixedness.” Engineers and customers alike have created a strong link between the product and its structure. We have become structurally fixated. That fixedness has survived not only the transition from the ice-box to the refrigerator but also decades of advance in refrigeration technologies that have followed.

Hidden Pitfalls

When we suffer from Structural Fixedness, we do not choose or intend to overlook potential changes in structure. We fail to consider these possibilities and, at the same time, fail to recognize our own failure. That is exactly the problem with structural fixedness and other cognitive barriers to innovation. These sneaky enemies are like stealth bombers – they stop us from coming up with innovative ideas, and we do not even know they are there.

Although we have only discussed innovation challenges briefly, one thing is already clear: If we are to use effective innovation methodologies, they must deal with more than one type of barrier.

Now that you know some of the key innovation challenges one can face, continue to gather insight and read about how to embrace failure.

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