Three surefire ways to kill innovation

How many times have you read a blog post or an article about an innovative idea another organization is deploying and thought to yourself: We should be doing that?

Now ask yourself how many times you acted on that thought?


Whether you are a nonprofit, small business owner, or Fortune 500 company, the key to future growth rests in the ability of your organization to foster creativity and take advantage of innovative new ideas.  Yet, every day your organization may be inadvertently creating an environment that stifles creativity, depresses innovation and limits organizational growth.

As a marketer, I focus on marketing innovation; but whether we are talking about IT, R&D, marketing or front-line customer service, your staffs’ ability to exercise creativity and openly share ideas will determine the long-term success of your organization.

In today’s world, here are three sure-fire ways to kill marketing innovation:

  1. No Organizational Framework for Innovation

As a marketer, odds are you a familiar with the history of the Post-It note.  In 1968, Dr. Silver, a chemist at 3M, was working to develop a high-strength adhesive when he produced the exact opposite, a low-tack adhesive.   The problem, however, is that no one within the company could find a use for the adhesive.  Dr. Silver, believing that he had an incredible product, spent the next five years lobbying 3m executives and putting on seminars.  Then in 1974, a colleague, Art Fry, using 3m’s permitted bootlegging policy, used the low-tack adhesive to keep his bookmark billions in new revenues and lay the foundation of 40 years of related products, was born.

The story of the Post-It note has been used to teach a generation of marketing professionals on the value of organizational policies that support innovation in the workforce.  If 3m had operated as most organizations do, Dr. Silva never would have been allowed to openly lobby executives on the value of a product born from his initial failure.  If 3m did not have policies in place that encouraged employees to find new uses for products, Art Fry would have never had access to Dr. Silva’s invention.  And if the company did have in place a system which rewarded employees for innovation, then neither of these events would have occurred.  Even today, 3m encourages employees to spend 15% of their work day developing their own ideas.

Organizational innovation, like marketing innovation, begins with policies that empower and reward employees, do not force employees to abandon ideas that they believe are sound, and creates an environment in which ideas can be shared in an open, honest, and respectful manner.


  1. No Strategic Focus 

This is perhaps my biggest pet peeve.  Too many business owners, executives and yes, even marketing professionals view marketing as a campaign, not a process.  However, successful organizational marketing is built upon the dozens of little tasks that go unnoticed, and are completed on a daily basis.  Without a clear, flexible and comprehensives strategy in place, with input and executive buy-in across departments, your organization will never realize its full potential.

Too often, executives measure marketing success, based upon a single campaign or single event.  As a result, there is no shortage of individuals who will rush to take advantage of a marketing opportunity without any plan, without following any structured approach and without any consideration of how to maximize the marketing potential of that opportunity.  As a result, they created an environment in which they are always chasing the next big story while undermining the basic marketing activities upon which long-term organizational growth is built.

This combination of marketing by campaign and lack of strategic focus creates an environment in which staff can quickly become over-pressured, over-stressed, over-whelmed and unlikely to openly share innovative new ideas.

Marketing creativity is born from structured planning that provides employees the time and encouragement to develop new ideas.


  1. Organizational Helplessness. 

Do you find yourself staying late at work or working weekends just to catch up?

Nothing kills innovation more than a lack of time; and nothing affects your time more than those tasks which fall under the “other duties as assigned” section of your job description.  Whether it is the result of a “yes man” attitude or simply because it’s easier to just do it yourself, there is no greater way to kill innovation than to create an organizational culture that rewards helplessness and strains the time available for your core job duties.  Let’s face it, as marketing professionals the campaigns you produce, designs you create, and technology you deploy is sexy.  After all, your job is to sell your organization.  As a result, people come to you for all the answers, but that doesn’t mean you have to answer.  It’s keeping them from discovering creative solutions to their own problems and placing a strain on your core job duties.

When you reach the point of wondering why you and your team spends so much time laboring on routine, mundane tasks rather than putting new, creative ideas into action, then perhaps it’s time to ask if you have the organizational structure, strategy and culture in place to encourage innovation.  Odd are…you don’t.

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