Avoiding the Seven Chronic Innovation Problems

The last thirty years have revealed a continual shift in R&D spend and innovation from large organizations to small firms containing fewer than five-thousand employees.¹⋅²  To illuminate why, we identified seven chronic problems that we see trip-up innovation efforts in large organizations daily.

Over the last few weeks my co-author of The Chief Innovation Officer’s Playbook, Bill Poston, has drilled into each of these chronic innovation problems in an effort to help executives spot symptoms in their organizations.

As a Chief Innovation Officer, you should identify where these problems reside in your organization and the impact they have on your innovation performance.

I highly encourage you to use the links below to see what Bill has to say about these problems and what you should be doing about them.


The Seven Chronic Innovation Problems

  1. Lack of an innovation strategy
    • What are our organic growth growth goals?
    • How much should we invest in innovation?
    • What is our tolerance for risk?
  2. Lack of cross-functional alignment
    • Do functional business leaders recognize the value of innovation?
    • Is innovation “thrown-over-the-wall” from function to function?
  3. Overloaded product development pipelines
    • Are resources booked over 150% capacity?
    • Are projects getting stuck in our pipeline?
    • Is there never enough time in a day to focus on fun, high-value projects?
  4. Rampant incrementalism
    • Do incremental projects comprise over 70% of our portfolio?
    • Do we balance sustaining core business performance with long-term growth from innovation?
    • Do we use different evaluation metrics for innovation initiatives and ongoing operations?
  5. Unclear accountability for results
    • Who has accountability for innovation results?
    • Where do they sit in the organization?
  6. Short-term orientation
    • Is employee role turnover impacting project success in-market?
    • Is “innovation” something that only happens after the urgent work has been done?
  7. Lack of skills
    • Do our employees have the knowledge, experiences and competencies to innovate successfully?
    • What is the average age of our technical and commercial resources?
    • Are we actively grooming innovation leaders?


¹ National Science Foundation, Science Resource Studies, Survey of Industrial Research Development, 1991, 1999, 2001, 2013.
² Joseph Schumpeter, The Theory of Economic Development [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934].



Article Review: How to Kill Creativity, by Teresa Amabile

How to Kill Creativity, 5/5 Sparks

[Purchasing link]

Teresa Amabile is a Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit, and the senior associate dean for research, at the Harvard Business School in Boston, Massachusetts.  Dr. Amabile received her Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University and has produced over 150 scholarly publications. Additionally Dr. Amabile has published two books, Creativity in Context (1996) and Growing up Creative: Nurturing a lifetime of creativity (1989).  [Harvard bio]

Main Points

  • Creativity is not a fluffy or abstract force, rather, it is the capacity to develop novel and useful ideas and results from the combination of three distinct influences; expertise, creative thinking skill, and motivation.
  • Management can improve the creative output of their employees through actions and procedures that enhance the effectiveness of these three influences.


How to Kill Creativity is a must read for any manager or executive who desires to increase the number of novel, appropriate and actionable ideas generated by their employees. In her article, Dr. Amabile successfully disperses the mystified disillusions surrounding creativity and then provides concrete procedures and practices management can undertake to improve the creative output of their employees. Read more of this post

Book Review: The Art of Innovation, by Tom Kelley

The Art of Innovation, 3/5 Sparks

[Purchasing link]

Tom Kelley is IDEO’s general manager. Tom has overseen IDEO’s business development, marketing, human resources, and operations. Tom currently has two best-selling books, The Art of Innovation (2001) and The Ten Faces of Innovation (2005). [Company Bio]

IDEO is an award-winning global design firm that takes a human-centered approach to helping organizations innovate and grow.” IDEO specializes in helping organizations “build creative culture[s] and the internal systems required to sustain innovation and launch new ventures.” [About IDEO]

Main Points

  • Aim to create an experience that is valuable to the customer. Good product and service innovations stem from the careful observation of, and empathy for, lead users.
  • “Innovation does not occur in a vacuum”. Effective innovation necessitates an environment that combines specific conditions, cultures, and activities, with a prototyping mindset.


The Art of Innovation is a testimony to successful defiance of hierarchical management styles and to the value of human-centered design. Author Tom Kelley, firmly believes that “sometimes only a real-life story will show you how the process actually works” [114]. The Art of Innovation manifests this notion. The book is read as a narrative of IDEO‘s successful projects that requires its audience to read between the lines to pull out the interlaced methodologies. Due to this structural choice, the majority of The Art of Innovation’s content functions as promotional material for IDEO and lacks counter perspectives, lessons learned from failure, and in-depth tips for implementation. Nevertheless, the book retains its value with five resource-packed chapters; 3-7. These chapters pair procedures and concrete management tools with real-life examples.

Topics covered by these chapters include:

  • Human-centered design
  • The brainstorming process
  • The importance of strong teams
  • The value of prototyping
  • The architecture of innovation-friendly environments

One of the cases referenced in the book is an ABC Nightline broadcast where IDEO is challenged to innovate the traditional shopping cart within a week. This video broadcast by ABC Nightline is embedded at the end of my review. Read more of this post