Why Most Innovation & Change Efforts Fall Flat (+ 5 Suggestions to Improve Adoption)

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Misplaced, a photography project by Anton Repponen

When we talk about innovation, the conversation is often sparked by technological advancements, speculating new business models and sharing product releases. Similarly, in our own innovation efforts, we seek market disruption strategies, first mover advantage, dynamic team structures, and rapid R&D cycles.

All ambitions aside: the success — and even legitimacy — of any innovation ultimately depends not on disruptive ideas, but on the impact of its implementation.

If your concepts, however brilliant, fail to be adopted in the systems they’re designed for, change will not occur and the so-called innovation won’t be much more than a creative brainstorm session. Brainstorm sessions are fun for sure, but it’s change we’re here for, isn’t it?

Implementation is the hard part. We see it time and time again, as innovation projects — even those built upon the greatest of intent, ideas and insights — stifle in their ability to diffuse.

If we wish to innovate and change, we have to acknowledge that change comes down to our people.

It is not about the knowledgeable consultant (although they can help). It is not about the inspiring innovation manager (although they can be a powerful catalyzer). It is not about the top management assigning budget (although that is a prerequisite).

It is about those actually performing and managing the tasks, therefore sustaining the organization, on a daily basis. If you’re a company, it’s your employees. If you’re a start-up, it’s your team. If you’re a community, it’s your members.

The success of any innovation depends on these people’s willingness and ability to adapt their behavior.

Changing has never been an easy feat, so it is your responsibility to offer them the right incentives, knowledge and tools to make the switch as effortless as possible. It is your role to guide that process.

In short: the value in transforming must be greater than the cost of change.

Most innovation projects fail for the simple reason that they fail to assign enough attention to the very people their innovation’s success relies on, and their willingness & ability to adapt. The key to lasting change within any organization resides with them, and them alone.

Deep down I think we all know this, but it’s so easy to lose sight or seek the solution elsewhere because it’s just damn hard to do.

To help you on your way, 5 suggestions to improve adoption:

  1. Offer incentive by communicating the benefits to each individual. What’s in it for them? How is the change helping them do their job?
  2. Trickle down strategies into symbols of change. In addition to discussing abstract changes in direction, focus on practical examples. Which tangible transformations can we see & show to signify the larger shift?
  3. Enable & facilitate the change. Besides the willingness and understanding, people might need certain knowledge or skills they don’t possess to successfully make the change. How can you set people up for success? How can you integrate the changes into everyday experiences that they’re familiar with?
  4. Co-create and catalyze. Get people involved (as early as possible) to co-create and diffuse your solutions. Naturally, they will become catalyzers of change within their teams & departments. How can you invite people to become part of the change?
  5. Build a feedback loop. Change is a process, not an isolated event. Feedback about the solution itself as well as on the implementation can help you improve this and your next change process. How can you collect valuable feedback to improve?

Back over to you. How might you approach your innovation projects in a way that acknowledges and harnesses their power? How might empathy help you better facilitate the change? Do you dare to co-create and include them even earlier on in the process?

I’d love to hear about your experiments and the results of your next innovation & change efforts and invite you to carry forward your learnings so we can all learn from one another.

Change on,

Originally published at Nadia Piet.

Written by

Designer & researcher focussed on AI/ML, data, digital culture & the human condition mediated through computing

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