Here’s Why Many Innovation Initiatives Fail


Wouldn’t it be great if you could do customer service like Zappos?  Or design like Apple? Or innovation like 3M?

Who wouldn’t want to be like those firms?

Well, it’s not so simple.

Barry Dalton wrote an excellent post called You Can’t Be Zappos (and why would you want to be?) addressing exactly this issue.  His main point is that the entire Zappos business model is built around delivering awesome customer service – and that unless you build your entire business model around this as well, you won’t have Zappos-level service.  And furthermore, Dalton argues that you shouldn’t want to do so – the says:

So, instead of trying to be like Zappos, how about try this first. Stop. Stop and think about your customers. What problems do they have with your business model? What customer issues are you trying to solve? Then, build a customer experience strategy that addresses that.

He’s exactly right.

Zappos is Zappos because they’re built to deliver awesome customer service.  You can’t just bolt Zappos-style customer service onto an existing business model.  To deliver it, your hiring needs to be organised around service, so do your partnerships, your value proposition, your revenue model, and (very importantly!) your cost structure.

Same deal with delivering design like Apple or innovation like 3M.

This is why many innovation initiatives fail – they are just bolted onto an existing business model that isn’t built for and can’t accommodate them.


You can’t just tack on 20% time and get the same results with it that 3M and Google do – you need all the supporting systems in place too.  You can’t look at Procter & Gamble’s Connect and Develop and just replicate that – it took P&G about 6 years to get the system in place and operating the way that they wanted it to.

You can’t add “Innovation” to your company values and then tell the middle managers to go figure out how to do it.

It’s relatively easy to add any of the innovation tools that you see elsewhere – but making them work is another matter entirely.  Making an innovation initiative work requires a change in behaviour.  This is what makes business model innovation such an effective tool – it’s really hard to duplicate!

Most of our innovation initiatives fail because organisations add in the tools, but they don’t change the behaviour.  We fail to empower the people that have to make the new ideas work.  We don’t build a culture of experimentation.  We forget to build learning into our build-launch loops, so it’s not an iterative process.

We fail to really commit to making our organisations more innovative by failing to change the way we manage.

If you want to buck this trend, and make your innovation initiative successful, you could do a lot worse than following Dalton’s advice.

Find a genuine problem, then build a business model around solving it.  If you integrate innovation into this, then your odds of success just went up.

(image from There I Fixed It)

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Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

11 thoughts on “Here’s Why Many Innovation Initiatives Fail

  1. We fail because it is ingrained in many to simply copy. Organizations reach for the safety blanket by asking for best practices, for bench marking others and then mistakenly blindly copying what they see! They ignore what really made up this or the circumstances behind how it got there in all the legacy, the luck, the dedication, the commitments.

    We start at the wrong point- we want to compare ourselves. Uniqueness is not for the faint hearted. Behavior is part of this but without a vision, without a understanding of a market need or opportunity, organizations simply fail to differentiate. Stay within the pack and follow is a more comfortable place to be- running always to simply catch up.

    We talk of the “fuzzy front end” for innovation, it is actually the fuzzy front end where we often don’t have the real clue of what we are wanting to achieve, we simply scout around on the hunt, seeking ‘breaking opportunity’, that is, if we can see it.

    Business model begins to force organizations to ‘stand out’ but the more the organization is established the more time this FFE of BMC needs working through. Most come with the problems of the organization or simply open ended questions, do not want to think, I mean really think these through as they immediately become complex. So they often mindlessly fill in the (nine) boxes, usually in isolation, get excited by one piece of thinking and charge off into the dessert never to be heard of again.

    Initiative fail because those involved don’t like the consequences, it is best staying rooted in the running pack, tucked in behind the leader, just simply running flat out in responding to the few who do think through tactics, through a strategy and have a game plan and structure behind it and that for the majority, is just plain hard work

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