Mike Brown of The Brainzooming Group spoke at today’s AMA virtual event, “Changing the Game: Innovations for Future Success”. Innovation is “a fundamental, valuable improvement relative to the status quo”, yet – despite the importance of innovation – many organizations erect barriers to it.

Mike sees 10 common roadblocks. He polled the audience about which barrier was most prevalent within audience members’ organizations:

  1. No direction (19% said it was the most prevalent barrier) – There’s a desire for innovation but no clear direction from management on how to innovate.
  2. No rocking the boat (15%) – The organization doesn’t want you to mess up the status quo: “make sure you don’t break anything!”
  3. No resources for innovation (13%) – The organization lacks dollars and resources to invest in something new.
  4. No process for innovation (13%) – There’s an inclination towards ad hoc innovation but no system to make sure you are benefiting from new ideas and productizing them.
  5. No measures (12%) – The business lacks the metrics or ROI for past innovations.
  6. No tomorrow (10%) – Many organizations, especially in the past few years, have a short-term focus that removes interest in innovation.
  7. No motivation (6%) – Signals from management and a culture resistant to new ideas result in no motivation for employees to innovate.
  8. No knack for innovation (5%) – Some companies have enjoyed a protected place in the market place and simply haven’t focused on innovation.
  9. No implementation success (5%) – No track record of successful innovation.
  10. No talent pool (1%) – An organization hasn’t tried to recruit people who are creative and innovative.

In one of the nicest uses of a poll that I’ve seen in a webinar, Mike then reprioritized his presentation content to cover the five biggest barriers to innovation, as voted on by the audience.

No Direction

“Successful business strategy is about actively shaping the game you play, not just playing the game you find.” – Adam Brandenburger & Barry Nalebuff

The basic question is “What are we trying to achieve?” But that’s not enough – adding a constraint can free up creativity. Tesco wanted to become the number 1 grocery store in South Korea, without adding locations. That constraint suggested “virtual stores” – photographs on subway walls of products with QR codes, so that people could order from their mobile phones. NASA wants to replace the Space Shuttle, while using only existing technology. A fundamental question that rules out some approaches narrows the scope while spurring creativity.

No Rocking the Boat

“Every story starts with a problem.” – Jon Favreau

Some companies are afraid of upsetting the status quo. When working with such companies, Mike find two lines of questioning that help focus the discussion.

  1. Cash or crash? If your organization is widely successful in 36 months, how did it get there? If your organization is out of business in 36 months, what happened?
  2. Who competes with you for the benefits and value you create? Who has the skills but isn’t in the market today?  Certainly, 10 years ago Blockbuster, Borders, CBS, Nokia, Sony and Tower Records wouldn’t have identified Apple as a competitive threat.

No Resources

“There’s no quote for ‘No Resources’ because we didn’t have any resources to find one!” – Mike Brown, comedian

One way to address the lack of resources is to free up resources by diverting them from tasks that your company should no longer be doing. Of course, getting people to admit they are spending time and money on tasks they shouldn’t be doing is hard. To arrive at this more tangentially, ask:

  • What are we doing that creates little or no value for our external or internal customers?
  • What is close to adding value? (The fundamentals are there but the resources or attention aren’t.)
  • What are we doing that is creating incredible value?

No Process

“The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.” – Linus Pauling

Many criticize the value of brainstorming. A common criticism is that it is a low yield process and the majority of ideas never see the light of day. In Brainzooming’s work, they see that 8% to 15% of the ideas generated in ideation sessions have near-term value.  While this sounds like an indictment, when you apply those percentages to fewer ideas, you’ll see that 5 ideas barely gets you 1 idea with value, while 100 ideas will get you 15. Addressing idea and innovation procedurally is key to success.

No Measures

“Be so good that they can’t ignore you.” – Steve Martin

Finally, make sure your metrics menu include both traditional quantitative measures (# of ideas, % sales, ROI) as well as qualitative measures (buzz, success stories, learnings).


Want to learn more? Mike will walk you through all 10 of the NOs to innovation in his free ebook.

Author Notes:

Jeffrey Henning

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Jeffrey Henning, IPC is a professionally certified researcher and has personally conducted over 1,400 survey research projects. Jeffrey is a member of the Insights Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers. In 2012, he was the inaugural winner of the MRA’s Impact award, which “recognizes an industry professional, team or organization that has demonstrated tremendous vision, leadership, and innovation, within the past year, that has led to advances in the marketing research profession.” In 2022, the Insights Association named him an IPC Laureate. Before founding Researchscape in 2012, Jeffrey co-founded Perseus Development Corporation in 1993, which introduced the first web-survey software, and Vovici in 2006, which pioneered the enterprise-feedback management category. A 35-year veteran of the research industry, he began his career as an industry analyst for an Inc. 500 research firm.