7 Innovation Myths That Limit Your Success

By Dr. Phil Samuel and Dana Ginn

When it comes to misunderstandings about innovation, not even the experts agree on which myths to debunk.

But after years of working with organizations of all types and sizes, we’ve put together a list of misunderstandings that we see regularly and limit an organization’s success.

These seven innovation myths might be standing in the way of your next great innovation!

Myth #1: Innovation Only Applies to New Products

Nope. Merriam-Webster defines innovation as “a new idea, device, or method” or the “act or process of introducing new ideas, devices, or methods.” An innovation might be a product but it also might be a service, process or business model. We take the definition of innovation even further. Innovation is not only a great idea brought to market but also one that’s adopted by the customer. An innovation delivers value to both the customer and the business at the same time. Researchers have noted that most of the long lasting innovations were not product innovations but instead business model innovations, such as brand (e.g., Harley-Davidson), revenue model (e.g., Google), customer experience (e.g., Disney) and partnership innovation (e.g., Zara).

Myth #2: Innovation Is Only for a Small Number of Key Leaders in Your Organization

Hardly ever. Although some organizations have a key leader who personally drives innovation every day, like Steve Jobs, most organizations need a more repeatable and scalable process, which requires the involvement of many. Innovation is a collective endeavor and should include the diversity represented by your entire organization. You can help your team break through psychological inertia, expand the collective IQ, and develop cutting-edge ideas by applying a systematic process with unrivaled tools and techniques. The success of innovation is heavily dependent on the combined wisdom of highly diversified teams.

Creativity is to bring into existence something genuinely new that is valued enough to be added to the culture.
—Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Myth #3: Only Certain People Are Creative

Think again. Everyone is creative, but in different ways. Some of your people are creative because they know how to innovate within the box. These people are meticulous at details and perfecting existing approaches. Other people are creative because they gravitate towards thinking outside the current system. These people are willing to question the wisdom of the status quo and explore new frontiers. Breakthroughs can come from inside or outside the box. It is the collaboration of different styles of creative problem solving that makes innovation stick.

Myth #4: A Business Fighting for Survival Has No Business Pursuing Innovation

Not necessarily. Innovation might be exactly what this type of organization needs. Process innovation directed at sales, marketing, customer service or manufacturing may provide short-term benefits like a quick boost in revenue or significant cost advantage. Long-term benefits gained from product or business model innovation may provide the next shot in the arm required to keep this business not just surviving, but thriving.

Myth #5: A Robust Phase-Gate Product Development Process Negates the Need to Look at Innovation in a New Way

Not in our experience. Our research shows that a robust phase-gate process is necessary but not sufficient. What is often missing in a formal new product development or phase-gate process is the ability to quickly develop and test prototypes with the customer before a lot of time and money is expended. If this “front end” of innovation is missing, companies often launch a new product, service, process or business model only to discover either the assumed customer need was not real, the solution developed did not meet customer needs, or the customer does not adopt the solution after all. Instead, decouple the Front End of Innovation from the Back End of Design, so you can experiment and prototype with customers early on in a rapid, inexpensive way, minimizing time and resources perfecting the wrong solution and instead ensuring a higher probability of customer adoption in the end.

Exploration is the engine that drives innovation. Innovation drives economic growth. So let’s all go exploring.
—Edith Widder, Co-Founder and President, Ocean Research & Conservation Association

Myth #6: Putting Structure Around Innovation Hinders the Creative Process

Quite the opposite. Our years of experience have confirmed that structure does not stifle innovation; a flexible structure actually enables it! Time and time again, the most successful ideas are generated using a systematic and flexible, but not limiting, innovation method. There are numerous examples of how structure enables creativity. One example is structured programming tools that allow people to develop a vast variety of applications.

Myth #7: Innovation Comes From our Internal Organization, Not From Outside Expertise

Yes and no. You can certainly develop your own ideas, and you definitely should. At the same time, you do need an external catalyst to provoke thought and allow you to come up with better ideas yourself. Innovation requires that we collect data from multiple external sources to inform and inspire our efforts. Successful teams don’t just rely on what they already know, but rather they do their homework; they know that generating insights comes from exploring customer needs, and studying market and technology trends. These teams collect data from inside and outside their industry and draw inspiration from any source they are interested in.

Dr. Phil Samuel is the Chief Innovation Officer with the Lean Methods Group. Dana Ginn was a Senior Client Partner.