What Are The Main Challenges Facing Innovation?

We ask the experts


Innovation is rarely a smooth process. It needs the right environment in place so the right people are encouraged and enabled to have ideas and drive projects forward. It is also important that the right tools are in place so that the value of that innovation can be captured and decisions made as to what resources should be allocated and where, whether this be for routine innovation or more risky and long-term innovation in new technologies or business models.

We sat down with six leading figures from best-in-class organizations about the challenges they are facing in implementing their innovation projects.

Zachary Hill, Chief Innovation Officer at The Future Project

The most common challenge, I'd say, is institutional inertia juxtaposed against an improperly designed accountability system. Basically, what happens is that an executive comes in and decides to host an innovation initiative, and maybe that executive even garners a fair amount of interest. But two, three, or four decades of institutional design create incentives that run wholly counter to the conditions that actually reward innovation: short-term growth, risk-and-failure aversion, overly siloed teams, distance from the customer and customer experience and other. Innovation can't be an initiative, it has to be a full-stack approach.

Miguel Encarnacao, SVP & Chief Innovation Officer at ACT

The main challenge might be that innovation cannot really be 'shrink-wrapped' and 'delivered', but a true innovation is decided by the market success, and thus, the customer adoption, which is often hard to predict. Market-reading innovation strategies just give you what everybody (including your competition) already knows, while needs-seeking strategies bear a higher risk of misreading customers’ desires. Purely technology-driven innovation tends to be short-lived and very volatile when it comes to customer expectations in the rapidly changing technological environment. So, having the right balance, expectations, mechanisms, and culture to construct a company-appropriate innovation portfolio might be the biggest challenge for sustainable innovation delivery, especially since it requires to take a long-term view on corporate innovation.

Liz Wessel, the CEO and Co-Founder of WayUp

It's easy to try and be innovative, but you never want to lose your focus. At the end of the day, trying to always be on top of the latest and greatest technology can result in you not being able to focus on building one great product.

Scott Bailey, Managing Director at MassChallenge, Boston

At their core, corporations and startups are very different, so often, the biggest challenge is figuring out how to engage. Sometimes, corporates work with startups as customers, partners, or even mentors/advisors. It’s also difficult for corporates to identify the right startups, and that’s where accelerators like MassChallenge come in. We act as a filter and matchmaker for more than 100 corporate partners across all of our programs.

L. Miguel Encarnação, Chief Innovation Officer, ACT

The shelf-life of innovation momentum: It often starts as an executive call to action but with the rapid changes in every company - and corresponding executive turnover - it doesn't get sufficient time to get properly developed, integrated with the overall corporate culture and processes, and given the luxury of demonstrating success possibly only in the long run. Often innovation efforts don't survive, therefore, aforementioned 'danger zone'.

The speed of technology-driven change: It creates immense acceleration of customer expectations -- often fueled by hype rather than true need, however, making it challenging for businesses focused on meeting customer expectations to adjust to technological change fast enough while applying appropriate due diligence in the process. The results are technology-focused, half-baked value propositions that don't integrate well back with the core business and its core capabilities, nor do they truly address customer need, consequently leading to even shorter shelf-life of 'innovations'.

Alp Basol, Chief Technology Officer at Global Enterprise Telstra

Many challenges still lie ahead and form a complex matrix that goes beyond technology, innovation, and invention, to include social, economic, political and geographical dynamics. An important underpinning element is to stay the course for your stated purpose, providing meaningful results that help the collective organisation reach its goal. In the case of Telstra, we are creating a brilliant connected future for everyone, by executing to our vision to be a world-class technology company that empowers people to connect.

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Innovation Is As Much About Environment As Ideas