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Why innovation methodologies fail

Search the internet or browse any book shop and you will find a plethora of books on innovation methodologies and best practices such as the Blue Ocean Strategy, Design Thinking, and TRIZ. Each one promising to unlock innovation in your organisation by providing you with a framework to follow. Unfortunately more often than not organisations will fail to innovate, even when they follow the methodology or framework step-by-step.

There are a number of possible reasons for the failure such as resources, environment/culture and timing. However I believe that there is one fundamental reason that outweighs the rest, and that is a lack of skill.

Each of the methodologies and best practices have merits, and when applied by the experts are able to produce great results. The problem is that most of us don’t have the skill to apply them that the experts have; and when I say “skill” I mean the thinking skills required to solve problems and overcome obstacles.

It is relatively easy for somebody to learn the steps and tools of any of the methodologies and be able to memorise what should be done in what order. They would probably be able to “teach” the theory to another person with little difficulty.

The difficulty lies in knowing how to do it, how to apply what you have learnt, and if you do not have the right thinking skills then you will simply be going through the motions and will never be able to extract the full value of the methodology.

Knowing the theory about something, and knowing how to apply something are two very different things.

Theory is knowledge, application is a skill. It takes practice and continued effort to develop the skill. Unfortunately we tend to focus more on the knowledge than the skill because it is easier to “master”.

For example take a sport like football. There are plenty of books and videos out there that teach you how to perform a specific movement such as curling a free-kick. You could study all of this material and become an expert in the technique of taking a free-kick, but unless you
practice physically taking a free-kick you will never actually master the skill of taking a world class free-kick. It’s the same for innovation, problem solving and thinking.

This is why most innovation methodologies fail, not because there is anything wrong with the methodology itself, but because we don’t take the time to master the skill of the applying the methodology.

This article originally appeared in my old blog on 20 March 2014.

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