Last year I interviewed some of the key influencers in the not-for-profit sector for ‘Innovation Still Rules’ to find out what they thought the biggest barriers to successful innovation were. This is what they told me.
The single biggest reason why most organisations and individuals do not achieve their full potential is fear of failure. There are no guarantees that any new idea will work. We must accept failing is an important part of learning, development and progress.
“People demand innovation: something no one has done before. But they also want to know for sure it will work. Which of course makes no sense at all.”
2. Lack of leadership
Innovation must be led from the top. Often, trustees, chief executives and directors do not support or are not in agreement as to the strategic importance of innovation as a business driver and what it would look like for their organisation. Consequently, they continue to do what they have always done.
3. Short term thinking
Most charities calculate on a one year return on investment. Any new innovation is expected to have immediate impact. Under the pressure to deliver return quickly we conduct inadequate research and rush processes, leading to failure, the idea being ditched and innovation being perceived as not working.
“There are few (if any) visible examples of larger charities that have deployed strategic innovation and shown it is successful. No one has ever committed to it for long and consistently enough”
4. Lack of resource/capacity
Linked to thinking in the short term, charities are apprehensive about investing in something that does not have guaranteed return on investment and often take a scattergun approach to innovation or under-resource it. This has a knock on effect of it not delivering the impact that it should or could.
“Hardly anyone has a research and development budget: expenditure with no income against it for testing”
5. Lack of collaboration
Internal budgeting and structures don’t always facilitate collaboration between teams. Individual income targets mean people fight over budgets and are reluctant to ‘share’ donors, even if the return for the organisation could be potentially higher if teams worked together.
6. No time
There is an understandable focus on the fundraising here and now. However, if we don’t start to make time to take a more long-term view and develop and test new ways to generate income, charities will struggle to survive.
“People haven’t got time, space, money or the will to focus on something that will give them a result 3/5 years along the line.”
7. Lack of focus
If an organisation is not clear on where to focus, it can easily spend time on activity that won’t make a difference. It’s easy to become distracted by new products and new technology, but if it isn’t helping you achieve your mission then you should not be investing time and resource in it.
“Lots of people doing stuff is not really innovation if it isn’t the right stuff”
8. Lots of ideas, no delivery to market
Having ideas is not a problem for most organisations, but having relevant ideas and progressing them can be incredibly hard.
“The sticking point is that people say they want to be innovative. They come up with ideas and then don’t do anything”
9. No clear process
A process is critical to filter and drive ideas forward, yet only 32% of those surveyed have a clear process in place for innovation.
“So many ideas slowly die in organisations as they don’t have a structure or processes for taking ideas forward”
10. Lack of urgency
Despite significant changes to the funding landscape and the economic environment, charities are not responding with urgency to change. Perhaps they believe that if they do nothing they will be OK, or it seems too difficult to think strategically with so many immediate day-to-day pressures.
“People focus on the here and now ␣ the immediate problems they face to get through the current financial year. The time to think about innovation is tomorrow.”
Years on, have things changed? Do these barriers still exist? Are these the same barriers for any organisation or is the not-for-profit sector unique? Are there more factors that inhibit our ability to innovate or have we cracked innovation now?
In my experience, the two biggest things that continue to stop people achieving the results they want, are lack of time to think and lack of confidence. You can get my latest ebook on How to have confidence at work here.
If lack of time is one of your challenges join my membership community the Lucidity Network, regular get it done sessions, bite sized training and Q&A sessions are all designed to help you make time to think and be more effective at work. Here’s your link with details of everything you get and where you sign up!