Innovation Blueprint: When Innovation Becomes Difficult

Innovation Blueprint: How To Embrace Failure And Pivot
Summary: The innovation journey is hard, arduous, and long. Sooner or later, you and your team will begin doubting your efforts, especially after a failure. As a leader, you will need to stay the course and be ready to guide your team to pivot.

Embrace Failure, And Be Ready To Pivot

Innovation is a novelty that creates value for customers and stakeholders. While more than 80% of executives surveyed by McKinsey in 2021 said that innovation was one of their three key priorities, only ten percent are content with their team innovation efforts. If innovation is ubiquitous, why is it so difficult to achieve and sustain? This series of Innovation Blueprint articles will explore key elements of cultivating an innovation ecosystem, including measuring and scaling innovation for your organization. This article offers three tactics to consider when the innovation journey becomes hard.

Innovation Is Hard

Innovation is not an easy path; it can be an arduous, long, and often lonely road. Before you can innovate, you will need to master the process and be able to identify the bottlenecks and pain points as they are experienced by the customer. Additionally, before you can innovate, you need to embrace an innovation mindset and be ready for the tumultuous journey from dreaming about the idea to doubting, deciding whether to stay committed or quit, from transforming to finally seeing the idea materialize into a value-adding, scalable product or service. Economist Daniel Kahneman explains that when we are on autopilot, we are not thinking critically or innovatively because, inherently, we are programmed to avoid change. To innovate, we must first change the way we think by accepting other perspectives, outsmarting our cognitive biases, cultivating curiosity, listening attentively to customer needs, and asking new questions about old problems.

Stay The Course, And Be Willing To Pivot

The second and third phases in Michael Docherty's innovation mindset journey are the doubting and the quit or continue phases, respectively. There will be doubt in your journey, where you wonder whether your idea is worth exploring, and you will doubt your ability to develop it to fruition. You will also go through the make-or-break phase. When the going gets tough, look at your data. As you continue developing the product, what does the data tell you about early customer feedback? Is your innovative idea addressing the process bottlenecks and customer pain points? Are you willing to make bets and take risks where others are afraid to tread? If not, you will need to be quick to pivot. If you are not taking risks and being bold with your business idea, most likely someone else has tackled the same problem, and so your idea is no longer as innovative as you originally thought. Pivoting is not easy and can be painful, especially if you have to give up the resources, time, and result achieved up to that point. However, you will need to be willing to change and swiftly picot to cut your losses so that you can focus on the known customer needs and pain points. Some examples of pivoting include taking one feature of a product and making it into the product itself, switching verticals, and changing the software you develop the product on, among others. As Amazon Executive Chairman Jeff Bezos said that "we must 'view setbacks as helpful obstacles that drive learning. Whatever your goals are, don't give up, no matter how hard it gets."

Talk It Out

When in doubt, talk it out. If you are unsure about your journey, discuss it with your team, your mentors, and your stakeholders. Externalize your concerns and fears so that you can distance yourself from them and see them more objectively. Reach out to your trusted network and listen to their perspective and advice. And always go back to the data. Go back to the customer and ask them what they think about the product so that you can collect new information or perhaps uncover previously missed crucial information. Continuously collecting and reviewing the voice of the customer data and the customer experience is crucial in the innovation journey. Always reviewing the data you have collected so far is important. Talking it out with your network, reaching out to the customer, and reviewing the data allows you to triangulate the data, which can be crucial in making the right, data-driven decision about the next steps of your innovation journey.

Embrace Failure And Learn From It

Accepting failure can be very difficult and even painful.; however, it can also be very empowering. Once we accept failure, we are no longer afraid of it and can climb up from there to tackle the next challenge. According to Eric Roza, his mantra on failure includes building corporate cultures that celebrate failure as a learning opportunity in monthly organizational meetings encouraging the team to stay humble and to keep improving. When we first experience failure, we may feel defeated, ineffective, and derailed from our journey. Accepting failure is an important first step in the journey of embracing and leveraging failure. From there, we can examine what went wrong and break down the failure points into useful information and data that we can leverage to improve. This is easier said than done. However, if you involve the team, the burden of failure can be lessened and embraced faster. From there, failure can become a set of inspiring and instructive lessons learned that the team can embrace and apply in the next steps of the journey.


The innovation journey is hard, arduous, and long. Sooner or later, you and your team will begin doubting your efforts, especially after a failure. As a leader, you will need to stay the course and be ready to guide your team to pivot. Additionally, you will need to be able to discuss your challenges with your trusted network, go back to the customer to understand their real pain points, and review the data you have collected thus far. You will need to use this information to pivot your business strategy. A critical element of pivoting is accepting failure and embracing the humility, learning, and inspiration that it brings. Cultivating a culture of accepting and embracing failure can be a crucial element in a successful innovation journey for your organization.