Five Obstacles That Impede Startup Innovation


If you’re building a startup, chances are that you’re aspiring to innovate – to create something new or do something differently. In fact, innovation and entrepreneurship go hand in hand. However, many startups unwittingly create obstacles that hamper innovation in their organization. What are some of those obstacles and how can you avoid them?

Fear of Risk-Taking

When Elon Musk put his last $35 million into the financially strained Tesla, did he know that the company would soon be worth $25 billion? Or when Steve Jobs attempted to enter the tablet market – something that many companies before him had tried, but failed – did he know that Apple would soon become the top tablet vendor in the world?

Perhaps not, but the point is that both entrepreneurs took big risks. And that’s what matters. Many startups, afraid of risks, lose out on critical opportunities for innovation and growth. A fear of failure can often be innovation’s greatest enemy, especially in today’s fast-changing world.

So, instead of avoiding risk, foster a culture of calculated risk taking. Encourage your workforce to think through each risk scenario carefully, gather as much data as possible, evaluate the odds of success – and failure — and then determine if a risk is worth taking.

Another best practice is to share successes and failures as learning opportunities across the organization. This is a great way for people to become more aware of how to successfully mitigate risks, and manage uncertainty. It also raises awareness that failures are accepted and part of the journey to success.

Finally, support your workforce as they experiment, and learn – sometimes by trial and error – and perfect the art of smart risk taking. When people are not afraid to fail, that’s when innovation will flourish.

Poor Governance

Innovation doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If innovation isn’t aligned and embedded within your business objectives and budgets, and if there isn’t clear accountability for innovation-related decisions, then things can get chaotic. That’s why governance is critical for innovation to succeed. Governance involves implementing appropriate guardrails that allow innovation to flourish without going overboard.  It’s about having a framework with clear roles and responsibilities, while also encouraging autonomy.

So, what can you do to effectively govern innovation? Emeritus Professor Jean-Philippe Deschamps wrote an insightful piece, “What is Innovation Governance?” in which he lists out six fundamental questions that companies should address:

1. Why do you want to innovate?

2. Where should you focus your innovation?

3. How much innovation should you target?

4. How can you innovate more effectively?

5. With whom should you innovate?

6. Who should be responsible for what in innovation?

Thinking through these questions carefully can help you define a clear framework to guide innovation, and ensure that it actually contributes to the bottom line.

Weak Organizational Culture

Many startups think that initially, at least, culture doesn’t matter. But that’s not true. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your organization has a culture right from Day 1. The question is – how conducive is it to innovation? Are people inspired to be creative and productive? Are they willing to try new approaches and ideas? Or are they afraid to take new risks?

Cultivating a culture that encourages innovation is no easy feat. It takes time and effort, and must begin at the top. When your leaders … Next Page »

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Shellye Archambeau is CEO of MetricStream, a Palo Alto, CA-based company offering governance, risk, compliance, and quality management solutions to enterprises in the pharmaceutical, medical device, high tech manufacturing, energy, financial services, healthcare, manufacturing, food and beverage, and automotive industries. Follow @metricstream

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