Zoe Aitken5 May 2022

How to overcome innovation inertia

Fear and inertia are two of the biggest enemies when it comes to innovation. Yet after the last two years, we’re no doubt all feeling a bit of both! There’s comfort and familiarity in doing what we’ve always done, however unfortunately this won’t get a business back to growth.  So how can we shift gear and move our team from ‘survival mode’ towards embracing more innovative behaviours? Below are three strategies to help your team overcome innovation inertia.

Connect to the ‘why’.

Innovation can be a tricky gig, with lots of unexpected challenges along the way. For this reason, the best and most resilient innovators are often those who are intrinsically motivated. Meaning that they have an internal reason that compels them to keep going, rather than any external pressure or rewards.

One way to tap into your team’s intrinsic motivation, is to ensure that you link what they’re working on back to a more meaningful purpose. That is, a purpose beyond revenue and profits that talks to the ‘why’ of what they’re doing. Sometimes, in the day-to-day thick of things, navigating through COVID-related complexities and tight timelines, it’s easy to lose sight of this. We can lose sight of the impact we’re aiming to have.

Therefore, for any innovation journey, celebrate the ‘why’ and keep this front and centre for your team, to create more motivated and passionate innovators.

Cultivate the right behaviours.

Long-term innovation success is rarely attributed to the genius of a select-few. Instead, it comes from the collective behaviours displayed by everyone in an organisation, day in, day out. So, it’s important to not only articulate, but to cultivate the behaviours that support innovation. Behaviours such as curiosity, collaboration, a learning orientation, and flexibility.

Paul Cobban, Chief Transformation officer at DBS Bank, who led DBS’s transformation journey, spent a huge amount of time cultivating a growth and innovation culture. He applied the concept of BEANs (which stands for Behaviour enablers, artifacts and nudges) to break their culture change down into bitesize, manageable chunks. Paul and the team focussed on behaviours such as encouraging dissenting views and creating psychological safety, which he attributes to their innovation success.

So, think about the behaviours that you wish to cultivate and then make it easy for your team to adopt them. Embody these behaviours yourself, promote them and hold the team accountable to them. Because change will only happen when your team’s behaviour supports the direction you want to go.

Run experiments

Often a lack of data or information can cause a team to become paralysed through indecision. We are operating in never-seen-before circumstances and what worked yesterday has no guarantee of working today. And what our customers valued yesterday might be completely different today, meaning a lot of our data has become meaningless.  Yet, the worst stance a business can take is one of inaction.

Experimentation is a tool that allows a team to act without having all the answers. It acknowledges that you are working with imperfect and incomplete information. The only thing that you need to run an experiment is an idea. Then you can systematically test the riskiest assumptions, to determine whether they are true or not.

Therefore, spend time building your team’s experimentation muscle to ensure they can navigate even the most uncertain circumstances. Because no-one has all the answers right now.

Innovation has never been more important to not only survive but thrive in 2022. These three strategies will help get your team back into an innovation mindset that supports your growth ambitions.

Zoe Aitken is the Head of Consulting at leading behavioural science and innovation consultancy Inventium and has over 20 years’ experience helping organisations develop customer-centric growth strategies and innovation.