The end-of-the-year sales push is in full swing. Planning for 2010 is under way. And between all the meetings, memos, and conference calls, your summer vacation is now just a distant memory. We all could use a break. So, just for fun, let's take a look at seven of the most common and deadly sins of the innovator. We've seen all of these cause failures of Biblical proportions.
1. Lust: Innovating in a space you have no business being in. Trying to innovate outside your operational expertise or brand footprint creates incredible inertia internally. "Should I be working on the things I should be working on or the harebrained scheme that someone else higher up on the org chart has conjured up." It also causes unhealthy confusion externally. "Wait," the customer says. "My longtime supplier of plastic molding injection equipment is now making iPhone (AAPL) accessories? What gives?"
Most successful innovation involves complementary products, services, and business models because they are readily accepted by your team and make sense to your customers. Unless a solid business case proves otherwise, "Stick to your knitting" is excellent advice.
2. Gluttony: Trying to create too many initiatives with too few resources. Innovation takes emotional and financial capital and focus. Venture capitalists can afford to back 10 companies, hoping the payoff from one or two will cover the expense of having the other eight or nine investments fail. But those odds won't work for you. Instead of making a number of small bets, focus your team and resources on one or two initiatives that have the greatest probability of hitting it big.
3. Greed: Taking short-term profits at the expense of long-term growth. The stock market demands a high rate of return, which naturally results in safe bets like line extensions. Line extensions are fine, but they leave you at risk of being blown out of the water by an industry-changing idea. The solution? Create two teams. Put one in charge of evolution and the other in charge of revolution. You'll get both short- and long-term growth.
4. Sloth: Taking short cuts—not doing the hard work, not following the proven process. Too many otherwise brilliant leaders have made the mistake of thinking that speed and short cuts are the only way to successfully innovate. While we agree that being overly cautious—"Let's test the idea for the 83rd time"—is also potentially fatal, there is a happy medium. Think big, quantify, qualify, refine, and launch. This should take no more than 12 months. If you can do it in eight, great! If you can do it in three, then you have left something out or you have a very, very tired staff on your hands. Remember: Just because it takes one woman nine months to have a baby doesn't mean nine women can produce one in 30 days.
5. Wrath: Being so focused on your competition that you miss the same opportunities your rivals are missing. You can't read the label when you are sitting inside the jar.
Remember, your competitors are in the same jar you're in. If you concentrate on what they're doing, you're both going to get kicked to the curb by someone outside your industry who is rightly focused on the consumer (and not either one of you).
6. Envy: In the context of innovation, envy means launching a "me too" product instead of finding a space you can own. An example of envy is when your sales team comes to you and demands that you launch a product to compete with the "hot" new offering they just saw from the competitor. Don't take the bait. Chances are, that product is going to fail. Instead, use your sales team to find out what other needs your customer or consumer has, and then attack them with your own novel product, service, or business model.
7. Pride: You won't give up on your favorite idea—even when the numbers prove you're wrong. "Hey boss, this one is for you." Nobody wants to tell you that you are wrong, which means that when it comes to your ideas, you must take a long, hard look at the data. Unless the data are overwhelmingly in favor of your idea, drop it and work on the one the team secretly knows is better.
Religion tells us the seven deadly sins are fatal to spiritual progress. We will let you debate that thought with the theologian of your choice. But we can tell you they are definitely fatal if you want to innovate successfully.