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Innovation: The Classic Traps.

R. M. Kanter
Published 2006 · Business, Medicine

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Never a fad, but always in or out of fashion, innovation gets rediscovered as a growth enabler every half dozen years. Too often, though, grand declarations about innovation are followed by mediocre execution that produces anemic results, and innovation groups are quietly disbanded in cost-cutting drives. Each managerial generation embarks on the same enthusiastic quest for the next new thing. And each generation faces the same vexing challenges- most of which stem from the tensions between protecting existing revenue streams critical to current success and supporting new concepts that may be crucial to future success. In this article, Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter reflects on the four major waves of innovation enthusiasm she's observed over the past 25 years. She describes the classic mistakes companies make in innovation strategy, process, structure, and skills assessment, illustrating her points with a plethora of real-world examples--including AT&T Worldnet, Timberland, and Ocean Spray. A typical strategic blunder is when managers set their hurdles too high or limit the scope of their innovation efforts. Quaker Oats, for instance, was so busy in the 1990s making minor tweaks to its product formulas that it missed larger opportunities in distribution. A common process mistake is when managers strangle innovation efforts with the same rigid planning, budgeting, and reviewing approaches they use in their existing businesses--thereby discouraging people from adapting as circumstances warrant. Companies must be careful how they structure fledgling entities alongside existing ones, Kanter says, to avoid a clash of cultures and agendas--which Arrow Electronics experienced in its attempts to create an online venture. Finally, companies commonly undervalue and underinvest in the human side of innovation--for instance, promoting individuals out of innovation teams long before their efforts can pay off. Kanter offers practical advice for avoiding these traps.



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