Posted by: rolfsky | December 2, 2009

innovation: your leaders are key to success


Mitch Ditkoff over on his Heart of Innovation blog has posted “56 Reasons Why Most Corporate Innovation Initiatives Fail”. Browsing through this list really rings true to me, as anything and everything that can and will go wrong on a new initiative. I’ve witnessed (and played a part) in more than one of these errors.

I took Mitch’s list and broke them down into three categories I mentioned in my earlier “understanding failure and success” post. Most of his reasons for failure are simply the nitty-gritty of executing any plan, while there’s also many items about fuelling motivation and buy-in. Buried within are few select gems which speak directly to the heart of innovation: visionary leadership and motivation.

My three categories are:

  1. the vision – what to do and why it must be done now
  2. the will – the fruits of leadership, the desire to do the vision
  3. the way – reality check: time, resources and implementation

From his post, my bucketing returned the following results:

  • 5 failures regarding vision and motivation
  • 13 failures to inspire a passion for innovation
  • 38 simple failures of execution

It’s interesting that his list of 56 directly reinforces the pattern in almost a mathematical way, as we get further along in the process, each step has 3 times as many things to go wrong with it. (Would it be naive to assume that there are 3 times as many people involved at each following step?)

I think the wrong way to read this would be to assume that we should focus the most on category 3, the way. Just because there are almost 9 times as many ways we can fail at execution doesn’t mean that execution is 9 times more important. On the contrary, I think a better way to read this is that useful improvements in vision and leadership will give you 9 times the leverage against your problem.

Ultimately, successful innovation requires all three of these parts and the total must add to “1”. This means that at an item level, vision is most important, followed by the will, and ultimately the way. Knowing the structure helps you prioritize where you should be focusing your energy, and whether you should be paddling upstream, downstream, or pulling your boat out of the water.



  1. […] Innovation Corner: Rolf on Innovation. […]

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