Why Ideas Get Stuck, Languish and Die

by | Apr 25, 2012

Most smart organisations today realize that they need to source ideas from employees, partners and customers. As Henry Chesbrough often puts it “That’s now the table stakes”. Corporations are getting better at filtering ideas, using some form of ideation platform to capture and push the ideas out to the “crowd”, weeding out those that are incremental, returning a set of ideas that executives look at and say “Those are great ideas!”.

And then they get stuck. And sit there. And eventually die.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

a)    The Business Units don’t want to pick up ideas unless they can be guaranteed an ROI. This is very common. The CEO is demanding growth and resources are scarce – why should a business unit deviate from its core capability to try something new – and find that the output now decreases? Why take the risk?  Better to get on with the job they are paid to do.

b)   No one is empowered to make a decision. Yes, everyone agrees the ideas that have been chosen are really game-changing. However no one is willing to put up his or her hand to allocate funding to drive that idea forward. Comments like “We should really work on these ideas” and “It would be great if we could get these ideas off the ground” abound. Six months later, the ideas have not progressed – at all. Some people talk about them, most have forgotten them.

c)    There is no process to spin-out an idea. While people talk about spin-outs, there is not actual process to make this real. So in theory it could happen – in practice there is no hope.

d)   There is no apparent “owner” of the idea. Of course, disruptive ideas will often have no apparent and obvious owner. Why? Because they are different and disruptive! So there is no owner – and hence the cry of “Why don’t you speak to …..they might like the idea” is heard throughout the halls of the organisation.

e)    The CEO never gets to hear about the idea, and the hierarchy kills it. By the time the approval process of the idea pushed the idea through several layers, it is probably dead, or dying. Someone along the way will kill it – or at least cripple it so much that everyone else is paralyzed. The strange thing is that if, and it is a big if, the CEO were to hear of the idea, chances are he or she would say “Great idea. Let’s do it!” . But it will never get that far (the CEO is obviously far too busy and it is impossible to get in their calendar) so the idea just languishes.  And dies.

f)     There is no Idea to Execution process. People think there is . but there isn’t. Very often you will hear “If we get good ideas coming through, of course we will fund them”. And when a set of ideas does in fact emerge, everyone ducks for cover. We are too busy, we need to wait till next financial year, we have no staff to allocate to work on the idea, the business plan is not well-enough developed……. Sound familiar?

So, what to do? Every organisation focused on innovation needs a well thought-through Idea to Execution strategy – not just a document, but a strategy that every stakeholder involved has committed to see executed. Without such commitment collecting and filtering ideas is almost a waste of time in itself. We need to really focus now on the incubation and execution phases of idea-to-Execution. For a long time the focus has been on collecting the ideas - now take some time out and ask yourself - do we really have a well developed Idea-to-Execution strategy end to end? One that works? One that is transparent and clear to all of the staff?

If the answer is "no"or "I am not sure" then take time out to shore up the back-end execution phases of innovation - because thats where the value really lies for you organisation.

As the saying goes, ideas with execution are just dreams.

Jeffrey Tobias

About Jeffrey Tobias

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well-known startups.

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Managing Director, The Strategy Group

Dr Tobias is an accomplished innovation consultant and entrepreneurship strategist, drawing expertise from the academic, entrepreneurial and corporate worlds. Jeffrey’s commercial and business experience is particularly focussed on lean startup, design thinking and leadership. Prior to The Strategy Group, Jeffrey was Cisco’s Global Lead for Innovation in the Internet Business Solutions Group helping Fortune Global 500 companies improve customer experience and grow revenue by transforming how they do business.
Jeffrey is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship teaching MBA students at the Australian Graduate School of Business at the University of New South Wales. An active angel investor, Jeffrey is on the board of various well known startups. Jeffrey’s corporate background includes leading global innovation strategy at Cisco, working with large corporates such as Adobe, Westpac, Telstra, Woolworths, and Perpetual.

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