Five Barriers to Innovation S14 Ep25

A common question I get from listeners is how to fight against the roadblocks and barriers to innovation.  In this week’s show, I address five of the biggest barriers to innovation. The list is based on the 2018 Innovation Leader study done in partnership with KPMG.  The study surveyed Chief Innovation Officers in organizations ranging from small to large.  As many of you have let me know, these barriers resonate with you. As we walk through the list, I will share my thoughts on each of these barriers to innovation.

Barriers to Innovation

The Roadblocks and Speed Bumps

First, here’s the list of barriers to innovation and how they rank among Chief Innovation Officers surveyed.

  1. Politics, turf wars, no alignment.   55% of innovation leaders say this is the #1 issue.
  2. Cultural issues.  45% claim this as the #2 barrier to innovation.
  3. Inability to act on signals.  41% placed this at #3.
  4. Lack of budget. 40% of innovation leaders found this to be the #4 obstacle.
  5. Lack of strategy, lack of vision.  35% put this at #5.

Let’s take a closer look at these and what I would do to get around these barriers to innovation.

Number One: Politics, Turf Wars, No Alignment

There are many manifestations of politics be it people vying for credit or the corporate antibody.  Politics can be a big challenge especially in large organizations.  The higher people rise within an organization, the more risk averse and defensive they tend to become.

Turf wars can erupt when “innovation” is used in a team name or a position title.  The innovation team creates an innovation for a product group. The product group team gives it an icy reception.  It’s an invasion of their turf.

No alignment occurs when people within the organization are going in different directions.  Leaders announce the need for innovation fast, but give no guidance. There’s no alignment of the activities or the overall organizational vision.  This is a lack of leadership.

RELATED:   Using Innovation to Grow the Intangible Economy

Here are ways to bring down these barriers:


  • Don’t worry about getting credit.  It’s about the impact to the organization.  Good leadership will recognize where the credit is due.
  • Don’t use the word “innovation” in a team name or job title.  Innovation is not the realm of a single team. It should permeate the organization.  

Turf Wars

  • Don’t innovate in isolation.  Open up opportunities for innovation across the organization.  Think ecosystem.

No alignment

  • Have focus up front and communicate that focus to your organization.  When you define the where and what, you get maximum leverage. Quantity and quality of ideas will increase.

Number Two: Culture

Some of the underlying issues I’ve seen with culture are fear of failure and unwillingness to experiment.  If these are concerns, a work around is to go stealth with your innovation.  

But, if you really want to fix the problem…

  • Identify core values that encourage innovation.  
  • Include the core values in employees’ performance reviews.  

Number Three: Inability to Act on Signals

The inability to act on signals signifies inflexibility within the organization.  Maybe you see a new opportunity or risk on the horizon but all resources are committed until the next budget cycle.  Or maybe you do not have a mechanism in place to identify weak signals.

The key to breaking this barrier to innovation:

  • Identify weak signals.
  • Be willing to change.
  • Have the flexibility to change.

Number Four: Lack of Budget

Budget is a challenge for innovation because budget cycles tend to be annual, but innovation does not follow an annual cycle.  Budget does not support or align with innovation. It creates a start-stop interference to innovation programs. I’ve been experimenting with trended spending in my organization.  It gives innovation teams flexibility to adjust funding and confidence funds will be there when needed.

RELATED:   Using Innovation to Grow the Intangible Economy

The Rule of 18 also comes into play as a barrier.   It is the length of time senior leaders are willing to commit to a project before they expect to see some form of impact.  If the innovation project does not show impact within 18 months, it’s likely to be axed.

My advice for budget related barriers to innovation:

  • Chunk down your projects to show impact and deliverables on an 18-month cycle.
  • CEOs and Chief Innovation Officers: make a multi-year commitment and stick with it.
  • Don’t underspend.  Budget is not the metric in innovation.

Number Five: Lack of Vision, Lack of Strategy

If an organization’s overall vision does not include the innovation vision and strategy, it’s unlikely innovations will succeed.  

My advice:

  • Define an innovation vision and innovation strategy.
  • Need help with this?  There’s a lot of good material available.  Drop me an email and I will point you to some sources.

If you’ve got a specific example or you’re struggling with an innovation issue, drop me an email.

Better yet, join us at The Innovators Community, a private slack community of leading innovators from around the world.  Post your questions or direct message for advice and feedback.

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