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Rosabeth Moss Kanter

While every company champions innovation in theory, very few do a good job of being truly innovative. Not only that, the broad championing of innovation seems to run in cycles, with the majority of companies on the innovation bandwagon at the same time.

Unfortunately, most companies have not done well in learning from their mistakes when trying to innovate, and so are doomed to make them again when the next innovation craze comes along. The good news is that there are common traps companies can learn to avoid to make sure their innovative zeal does not get derailed the next time an innovation wave hits.

*Strategy mistakes: Many companies only consider innovation opportunities that promise very high and very fast returns, overlooking the smaller and less obvious opportunities that could yield even better results. Companies also tend to focus on product innovation and overlook the benefits that come from process innovation. However, by creating an “innovation pyramid” of potential opportunities, companies can cast a wider net and allocate resource investments incrementally. This practice also opens the door to include both product and process innovations, inviting ideas from across an organization.

*Process mistakes: Innovation requires a flexible set of processes; however, all too often companies subject innovation to the same set of planning, budget, and review rules the existing business must conform to. This approach stalls and stifles innovation. One solution is to set aside resources to address innovation whenever an opportunity comes along to allow resources to flourish outside of standard processes.

*Structure mistakes: Creating a separate business unit chartered with innovation can help provide the kind of flexibility innovation requires, but unless the two units are communicative and coordinate well, there can be a serious “clash of cultures” that creates resentment and stalls progress. Leaders can avoid this pitfall by facilitating strong communication and nurturing relationships between the two units.

*Skills mistakes: Strong interpersonal skills are required to both lead and champion an innovation effort. However, leadership is often put in the hands of technical experts instead. Companies should select leaders who are well versed in people skills and good at building strong teams.

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