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Innovation as unusual

Innovation is a culture and it starts at the top


Our new innovation survey has found 47% of senior executives describe their innovation activity as a ‘costly failure’.

Our research, including 751 senior executives, spanning 15 countries and nine sectors, shows that organisations are losing money and missing out on valuable opportunities.

Download the report

The ‘innovation killers’

Our survey reveals five ‘innovation killers’ that senior executives must address to stop their great ideas from leaking through the cracks.

Lack of focus
Engine failure
The wrong ROI
Reluctance to invest
1. Fear Around three in five respondents (58%) say they are unlikely to back high-potential but risky innovations, while overzealous risk management ranks among lack of budget, people or skills and difficulty moving beyond small scale as a top reason why brilliant ideas fail.
2. Lack of focusIn our survey, over half of respondents (53%) say they use the term ‘innovation’ to describe different things, while 42% agree innovation is something they talk about more than they do. This suggests many organisations lack focus and a clear innovation strategy – which can lead to wasted energy and resources
3. Engine failure Organisations are struggling to develop and commercialise their best ideas at pace. Asked to pick from 13 common barriers to innovation respondents point first and foremost to scaling up ideas for large-scale use (25.3%). They also cite difficulty moving beyond small scale as a top reason why brilliant ideas fail.
4. The wrong ROI Organisations need tools to model the ROI on innovation projects – but they must be careful an accounting mindset does not kill creativity. Respondents rank difficulty in measuring ROI close behind scaling up ideas for large scale use in the list of 13 barriers to innovation, which suggests that many are conflicted about the best approach to identifying winning ideas.
5. Reluctance to invest When ideas fail for avoidable reasons, the cause most frequently cited by respondents is lack of budget, people or skills. Simply, the resources required for innovation are not made available. This is backed up by 24.5% of respondents who said insufficient investment is a top barrier to innovation.

What separates the best from the rest?

As we analysed our survey data, we looked for correlations in the results that pointed to best practice approaches to innovation. In particular, we sought to isolate the key traits shared by the most outstanding innovators. This group of ‘innovation leaders’ strongly believe their leadership is good at encouraging and nurturing innovation, and, for the private sector respondents, 35% had delivered over 10% EBITDA growth in the last year, compared to just 16% of the rest of the private sector respondents. The following are six behaviours that separate the leaders from the rest.

How different sectors compare

Here are some highlights of the key findings from each sector.

Financial Services
Life Sciences
Public Sector
Energy and Utilities
Manufacturing and Consumer Goods
Transport and Logistics

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Moving to an 'innovation-as-usual' mindset

A siloed approach to innovation is unlikely to succeed. To deliver transformational results, innovation has to move beyond the R&D department and become firmly embedded in the culture of the organisation. To achieve this, our research suggests seven recommendations that senior executives should consider to convert innovation investment into profitable return.

1. Be visionary, aggressive and bold with innovation

For all kinds of innovation, organisations need to be doing something new, visionary and bold. They need to be prepared to take risks. Strategic innovation might mean cannibalising your own business or opening your organisation up to new threats. Internal innovation might mean abandoning processes that have been in place for decades.

2. Bring new life to the traditional board

By selecting practical and risk-averse leaders, many organisations have remained profitable despite the ravages of the global financial crisis. Today, organisations need a wider mix of talents and skills at the top. As well as professionals from financial and operational backgrounds, they need creative talent to challenge assumptions about what their organisation should and should not do.

3. Bring in antibodies to fight off standard innovation killers

Across sectors, the same barriers to innovation crop up again and again. The resources are not available. Our creativity is stifled by rules and risk aversion. Infrastructure is inflexible. We have good ideas but struggle to implement them. Organisations can make these problems go away by putting a set of standard ‘antibodies’ in place. for example, incentivising employees to come up with and implement ideas.

4. Measure by value

Our research suggests that a narrow focus on profit and loss can stifle innovation. The best innovations evolve slowly, need regular rework and simplification, and often look very different by the time they are finished. As a result, organisations need to think differently about what constitutes – and what is likely to create – lasting success.

5. Fail safe, fail frugal

Failing fast is not a new concept, but many organisations are still reluctant to endorse failure of any kind. As experimenters in defence and transport have shown, however, failure does not need to be expensive. Neither should it lead to career risk. Brilliant innovators encourage innovation time among all their employees. Some even consider celebrating or rewarding near-miss ideas that were good, but not possible.

6. Go beyond 'token digital'

Whatever kind of innovation they are pursuing, organisations need to adopt a ‘disruption mindset’ to ask whether digital technologies could make their tried-and-tested approaches more effective. How would a tech startup use digital technology to rethink an internal HR process? How would they redevelop a successful existing product – would they even keep that product going or abandon it altogether?

7. Look beyond your sector – and then keep going

Innovation is as much about interpreting and repurposing existing ideas as it is about coming up with entirely new ones. Brilliant innovators look to other sectors, to see how they can adapt their innovations. Brilliant innovators spend time getting to grips with emerging concepts outside their core industry as well as from their direct competitors.

Download the full report

Our new innovation report is based on an international survey completed by 751 senior business and government executives. Public and private sector respondents came from across defence, energy and utilities, financial services, healthcare, life sciences, consumer products and manufacturing, public sector and transport and logistics.

Our research raises a number of vital questions for leaders with responsibility for delivering innovation. Our full report covers:

  • Our view of the innovation challenge that organisations face

  • Cross-sector learnings for addressing the innovation drain

  • Best practice examples from 24 interviews with innovation leaders

  • Analysis by sector and key findings

  • Analysis by country and key findings

Download the report

Contact us

To find out more, contact us below:

Anita Chandraker

Anita Chandraker
PA digital expert

Email | LinkedIn 

Hans Houmes

Hans Houmes
PA consumer and manufacturing expert

Email | LinkedIn 


Download the full report

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