If you studied composition in high school, somewhere along the line you learned this. In literature all stories can be categorized into one of five or six types:
- Man versus himself
- Man versus man
- Man versus nature
- Man versus supernatural
- Man versus society
When you think of all the stories you hear, all the books you read, this list seems almost too short, too simple. Yet this kind of taxonomy is relatively common. When you drill deeply into many different subjects you’ll find many variations on just a few common types.
This concept is also true, and consistent, when you consider the factors for innovation success or failure. There are perhaps four or five key plot lines when we look at the success or failure of innovation in an organization:
- Idea versus idea
- Idea versus existing product
- Idea versus existing culture
- Idea versus decision maker
- Idea versus budget
So, the question becomes, what is your CIO – chief innovation obstacle – when it comes to innovation? And, by the way, the CIO is not necessarily permanent and not consistent initiative to initiative. In one initiative, good ideas may be blocked by existing products. In another initiative, innovation may be stymied by existing culture. In yet another attempt, innovation may be slowed by inadequate resources or a lack of funding.
It should come as no surprise that perhaps one of the most important activities a new innovation effort can entertain is to define the likely CIOs for the work they are about to do, and attempt to resolve or mitigate the CIOs before starting to innovate. If the ideas generated threaten or cannibalize an existing product, can you bring the product managers and executives whose success depends on the existing products on board? If limited funds or resources are likely to stymie your efforts, can you use radically fast, disruptive innovation to overcome concerns about resources and budgets?
Innovation is, in the abstract, a good thing and in the specific often challenging, because it presents so many challenges to the existing operations of a business. Many people who are enthusiastic about innovation are often naive about the barriers and obstacles their initiatives are likely to encounter, and should spend time early in an effort identifying and finding factors to mitigate the CIOs. Chief Innovation Obstacles can be people who feel threatened by innovation, or cultures that are uncomfortable with the risks and uncertainties, or new tools and methods, of innovation. Identify possible innovation obstacles early and pursue activities and information that will mitigate or eliminate the obstacles. Even more to the point, create innovation accelerators, especially cultural expectations and attitudes, the encourage innovation and diminish innovation obstacles.
In any business, in any situation, a new idea, no matter how valuable or how perfectly aligned to business needs and goals will have an obstacle. Newton’s law – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction – applies. Your job as an innovator is to fully support your idea, and at the same time recognize the potential CIOs that will stand in the way of your idea. For every idea there is at least one corresponding CIO. Good innovators know how to identify the CIO and mitigate it or eliminate it. Most innovators struggle with their CIO and blame the CIO for innovation failure, when the innovator should really blame themselves for not spotting and eliminating the CIO.
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of “Make us more Innovative”, and innovateonpurpose.blogspot.com.