Three Signs Your Innovation Project is Going to Fail

Getting the Leadership foundation right puts teams on the shortest route to innovation. However, teams all too often skip this crucial stage. It’s like a farmer welcoming an insidious fox into their hen house.

Getting the Leadership foundation right puts teams on the shortest route to innovation. However, teams all too often skip this crucial stage. It’s like a farmer welcoming an insidious fox into their hen house.

When I was with Nokia in 2002, I joined an internal innovation project in Nokia’s mother hen house — Helsinki, Finland. We were tasked to improve IT services experience by leveraging self-service. The team was made of global talents from Asia, Europe and US, together with top gun consultants from Accenture. The project started with a kumbaya kick-off out in the woods. A senior leader started his presentation with “Money” by Pink Floyd. We were happy chickens thinking we had all the ingredients for success.

But, there was an insidious fox killing our project from day one. There were three signs:

  1. I wasn’t doing great work because my entire day was filled with meetings.
    There was absolutely no time to think and reflect.
  2. I felt like Bill Murray in the movie, Groundhog Day, reliving the same meetings repeatedly.
    Not only was the project team in meetings all day, we were addressing similar issues dressed up in another meeting. It would take three weeks of discussions to agree on one slide.
  3. I felt we were alone — not wanted.
    We were running hard, but when we looked behind us, people were not following. People within the larger organisation looked at the innovation project as not real work — but when we started proposing real changes, they pushed back with vengeance and said it cannot be done.

Your biggest enemy is within

The insidious fox killing our project from day one was our silent infighting and internal resistance to fight the status quo.

While we were trying to innovate, others didn’t like solving those problems. They want it to remain a problem and keep to the status quo.

Now the farmer — our senior leaders — could not see this fox. They just wondered why the team is working hard, spending buckets of money but going nowhere. If they checked the hen house, there would be no blood, no feathers, just smiles.

For Nokia, a much bigger game was afoot at the company level. Nokia had leading concepts in R&D to knock the socks off the market, but key decisions were not executed well in 2003. Nokia lost its strategic market advantage and was unable to compete with the iPhone launch in 2007. Enough said, “chickens slaughtered.”

In the end, Nokia failed to hit its business outcomes. Our silent infighting, internal resistance to fight the status quo became our competitor’s advantage.

The shortest path to innovation

“One of the changes I’m driving within Nokia is to adopt what we call ‘the challenger mindset.’ Let’s understand that we have to fight, we have to fight our way through the difficulties, we have to listen to consumers, we have to both deliver what they need and have some creativity and insight and deliver what they don’t yet know they need.”
- Stephen Elop

The shortest path to innovation starts with getting everyone into a “stay ready” mindset, where hard work leads, with the least resistance, to innovation.

With hindsight wisdom, Nokia culture was not supporting the execution of strategy. If I had the chance to do it again, I would focus on the leadership foundation — design innovation around smaller agile teams with extreme accountability.

If you suspect you have a fox in your hen house. Drop me an email.

Roger Grant helps organisations unlock ideas that facilitate innovation by helping people do great work. He believes good ideas can come from anywhere. Before Personna, Roger created innovative customer-centric technology services for 18 years, working for companies like Check Point Technologies, IBM and Nokia.

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