Do Humans Get In the Way of Innovation?

innovation, execution, companies, human behaviorUnicorns, those wild magical beasts in folklore are sought for their healing properties and because they are so elusive. Rather like the quest some companies are on regarding innovation. Innovation is supposed to be the sustainer and life saver of companies. But there is something gumming up the works…there are humans in the way.

Why is innovation so hard?

A question with quite a few answers but we might be missing something crucial. People create innovation. People talk about innovation. We have talked about it on our Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz many times.

Is the work of innovation too boring?

There are many possibilities here ranging from individual behavior to breakdowns in the process. According to Tom Agan, companies are spending too much time ideating. As in, spending a part of or even an whole day coming up with new ideas for the company. Agan’s point is that time would be better spent on looking at ideas the company already has and then identifying and clarifying the best ones for the company to implement.

Another perspective is put forth by David Hasell. He writes that “the secret  path to innovation” lies with the reticular activation system (also known as the extrathalamic control modulatory system). This structure in your brain, is believed to be involved in behavioral motivation, mediating the shift from sleep to wakefulness including periods of high attention plus managing the dampening of loud noises and other intense stimuli. Hasell’s premise – if you activate the RAS on a regular basis, people in the company will begin to build an awareness for certain activities and ideas.

Akin to Agan’s point,  have written The Other Side of Innovation: Solving the Execution Problem. They ask if the execution part is too “humdrum” and therefore people don’t expect it to be work. In the book, Govindarajan and Trimble posit that people forget and/or dampen their enthusiasm when it gets to the implementation part of of the innovation process.

What if it’s really about how we understand ourselves and the way organizations are collectively “us?”

On an individual basis, there are many reasons people don’t follow through. In a parallel fashion, implementing an idea is much like goal completion. Some possible theories why organizations don’t execute their ideas well:

  • Too busy fantasizing: Research has shown that people get so caught up in the fantasy of what the result of their efforts will be that they neglect to do the work. The team that held the ideation session were so excited and enthusiastic that they got caught up in the dream.
  • People may misunderstand the business goals and/or the process or not want to change the status quo: Poor communication can derail a project before it has started. It may even be that certain revenue streams are still performing well so there isn’t enough motivation to explore something new.
  • Fear of unknown: The process of innovation is experimental by nature. You don’t know if a new product, service or process improvement is really going to work or make money. Without high-level sponsorship, the idea will remain an idea.
  • Mistrust of leadership: Ideas may not get implemented because it is perceived as a fad or chasing a dream.
  • Too robotic: Psychological research has discovered that a lot of our everyday behavior is robotic. People in companies may get caught up in the everyday work and not connect it to the innovation process, thereby, losing motivation and meaning.

Stop chasing the unicorns

There are probably more reasons why companies fail in their efforts to innovate. It makes sense to learn more about human behavior and then prepare an implementation process that takes the idea beyond the talking stage. Given that it is hard to know when something is going to truly disrupt the marketplace, paying greater attention to how new ideas get transformed into tangible things…the human thinking, feeling and acting…will make the innovation process cleaner.

How does human behavior play a role in the innovation process? Join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, May 2, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to add your insights and expertise to our conversation.

What are your top 3 reasons why innovation is working well in organizations?

How could ratcheting down the rhetoric about the necessity to be innovative actually encourage more innovation?

Ideas only become innovations when they are implemented. Could the day-to-day work of executing an idea be off putting as it is not as sexy or stimulating as ideating?

How would understanding how our brains work and human behavior help companies get over the hurdle of executing their great ideas?

What would you put in place to bring ideas into actual products or services?



Similiarities, Differences and Co-Existence of Kaizen and Innovation

When KaizenBiz community members suggest a post or topic, I listen and find a way to include it in our weekly chat. So, when Bernd Nurnberger (@CoCreatr) suggested a post on how Amazon is using kaizen, it seemed interesting to look at kaizen. Companies of all sizes are often looking for ways to be better, more efficient but there is also a desire to innovate products and services so they can capture more of the market. Where are the similarities and differences between kaizen and innovation? And can they co-exist in the same organization?

Kaizen – quick review

Kaizen is a Japanese concept of continuous and incremental improvement of a process. This process might be a manufacturing process, an accounting process or a customer service and the continuous improvements make the process more effective and efficient. Toyota is the most famous example of a company that uses kaizen although a number of companies also use it.


We’ve talked about innovation a few times on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz because it is somewhat elusive and much desired by nearly every company that exists. In “What’s All the Fuss About Innovation?“, I used this definition, “the process of translating an idea or invention to a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay.” Curiously, for this framing post, I ran across another definition from an Australian govemment initiative which described innovation as “…renewing, changing or creating more effective processes, products or ways of doing things.” With the Australian government’s definition, it might seem that there is little difference between kaizen and innovation.

Other overlaps

Here are some other overlaps that spring to mind:

  • Both kaizen and innovation rely on someone identifying that there is another (and better) way to do something.
  • Organizational leaders must be sponsors and/or supporters for the changes to be explored and implemented
  • They both depend on ideas
  • Iteration is often part of the process
  • Use creativity in problem solving

However there are differences

Even with a number of overlaps, there are ways that kaizen and innovation are not the same:

  • Kaizen is a continous process that uses incremental steps and can be rigorous in its application across the organization
  • Innovation can range from being small adjustments or changes or radical new things
  • Innovation can seem chaotic or without structure due to the creative process
  • Kaizen is typically anyone’s job in an organization while innovation tends to be assigned to a particular group of people
  • Kaizen focuses on what is and how it can better and more efficient
  • Innovation focuses on what could be and how it is new and/or disruptive

 But can they co-exist?

There are a few dynamics swirling around organizations. One is the memory of the experience of the Great Recession is still very fresh so there are policies, business goals and expectations created in response. This is certainly prudent as companies are rebuilding and adjusting to the current circumstances. Another dynamic is the rapid progression of technological advancements. One of the other dynamics is this mindset that unless a company is innovative, it is unsustainable and will fail. In a Forbes post, Vijay Govindarajan is quoted saying,

“The more you hardwire a company on total quality management, [the more] it is going to hurt breakthrough innovation. The mindset that is needed, the capabilities that are needed, the metrics that are needed, the whole culture that is needed for discontinuous innovation, are fundamentally different.”

That seems to indicate that they cannot co-exist. This opens a number of questions. Not all organizations are designed to pursue radical changes. There may even be a lack of understanding of both kaizen and innovation.

What do you think? Is there a place for kaizen alongside innovation? What similarities and differences do you believe exist?  Join us Friday, February 28, 2014 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT to look at this more closely on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz

Is there any chance that something is missing or missed as systems are tweaked and refined?

What is the difference between change and improvement?

In what ways could kaizen prevent innovation in an organization?

How could kaizen could co-exist with innovation? Are any adaptations necessary?




Creativity – Mysterious Ingredient of Innovation

innovation, creativity, businessWith so much emphasis on innovation in the business world, people are trying to determine what the ingredients are. There is pressure to be the most innovative with products and delivery. There is this thought that there must be some special way to create something so innovative, so groundbreaking now because anything else would be ordinary.

Even service providers are expected to be innovators. But is innovation ideas, process, sponsorship and support from higher-ups or is it the people doing the work?  But if you drill down even and look at any of these ingredients, it is clear that the ideas come from somewhere.

Most basic ingredient of innovation is creativity

Okay, so it’s an ingredient. That seems pretty obvious.The thing about innovation is that it is the practical application of an idea. Before that application, there had to be a moment when someone thought (or perhaps imagined is a better word). In a Fast Company post, the author described Albert Einstein’s method of problem solving as thinking for the majority of the time and then coming up with his answer. This seems consistent with recent research which has discovered that daydreaming is one way creativity is sparked.

Rediscovering creativity

We know creativity when we see it, right? It would seem so. We can feel it when we are in the moment. Artists have described it as being on fire. It is the experience of being “on” with everything working in concert. Within the last few years, researchers have been trying to discover how the “magic” happens so they have been looking at everything from freestyling rappers to lighting attempting to pinpoint how creativity functions. But this points to the chase more than anything else.

Ephemeral quality of creativity

Elizabeth Gilbert in her TED talk describes the experience of creativity so eloquently. Like many artists, authors and musicians, she notes how hard it is to create and the fear that she will not replicate the quality of her writing. For innovators in the business world, the pressure to find something marketable can amplify the same fear that Gilbert and other creators experience.

Couldn’t using the research findings make it more likely to create?

This may be the most interesting question. Could we confuse what is truly creativity by doing certain things or manipulating our environment? (For a quick overview of the latest research findings, read this post by Will Burns) The application of this research could very well derail creativity. It feeds the belief that if we get the right lighting, the right level of noise, daydream enough or what have you, we’ll be consistently creative. Dan Palotta writes, “The unspoken assumption is that our goal is to gain competitive advantage, to crush the competition, to win.” There is also an assumption that you can mechanize the process.

Does creativity need a purpose or is it a business tool?

But, what if, asDan Palotta also asks, that creativity is something deeper? For some creativity is simply a form of exploration. For others, it is an answer to a question or problem that occupies their thoughts. There may need to be other questions asked about creativity such as timing, purpose, social value and who gets to be creative.

There are even more questions about creativity so join us on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, September 13th at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT

What is the purpose of creativity?

How do we train ourselves to recognize creativity in nontraditional places?

When we talk about creativity, are we really talking about design?

How do we overcomplicate creativity?

Given what research has discovered about creativity, why does it seem elusive?

Is creativity simply an activity of creation, to provide a good/service to the world, an expression of being human or something else?


What’s All the Fuss About Innovation?

Why are there so many posts about innovation? Perhaps it is due to the new year. Or maybe even because it is touted as the answer to rebooting the economy. Or maybe it is because we don’t understand innovation. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, in Nine Rules For Stifling Innovation, sums up the fuss,

Innovation has become the holy grail. Finding innovation is almost a sacred quest for the solution that will create growth, and open new eras of prosperity and well-being.
Unfortunately, like many things called holy, the concept of innovation is invoked ritually and ceremonially more than it is embraced in practice.

Basic definition

According to, the definition of innovation is “the process of translating an idea or invention to a good or service that creates value for which customers will pay.”

Join us for the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz on Friday, January 18, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT and discuss what we make such a fuss about innovation. Not sure how to participate? Please click here for tips and advice.

The $1,000,000 (approximately €748,223) question

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