6 Barriers To Innovation That Hurt Long-Term Growth (Part I)


Innovation is the key to maintaining relevance and achieving sustainable long-term growth. Often, though, companies who fail to innovate may not be falling short because of a lack of commitment to innovation. Earnest efforts to adapt and change processes and products to suit the current day and age can easily be thwarted by the existence of strong barriers to innovation.


Without adequate and targeted intervention, the resistance that these barriers create can slow down innovation significantly. Trying to innovate when you’re still bogged down with them is like attempting to run a race with a medicine ball strapped to yourself. You can still move forward, but you’ll be much slower and far more exhausted than the rest.

The heavier the medicine ball, the slower you run. Similarly, the higher the barriers, the slower you’ll be at innovating. From a managerial standpoint, though, there are, of course, ways to “lighten the load” and facilitate better innovation. Here’s how.

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1. Focusing on generating profits instead of creating value

According to Guy Kawasaki, former software evangelist at Apple, innovation starts with the desire to make meaning, not money.

Every innovation strategy or project should be motivated by a clear value proposition instead of by vague notions of profit-making. Successful innovation efforts are those that resonate wildly with the people they’re targeting. So many companies miss the mark because they’re too focused on making money instead of providing something of real value to the end-user.


To that end, Kawasaki suggests having a condensed two-to-four-word mantra that encapsulates the value that a proposed innovation will provide to the market.


2. Disengagement

If your people aren’t emotionally invested in their companies or in the work that they do, they’ll probably be unmotivated to seek improvement through innovation. Instead, they may prefer sticking to the status quo, which runs contrary to the spirit of innovation.


A 2007 study published in the Gallup Management Journal, for instance, found that only 3% of disengaged employees thought that their jobs brought out their most creative ideas, compared to 59% of engaged employees.

In other words, the more unengaged and unmotivated your employees, the lower the chances are that your innovation strategies will bear the fruit you want them to.


Gathering front-line feedback

Front-line employees, especially, are indispensable in sparking purposeful product or process innovations. Since they’re the ones repeatedly using products and receiving feedback from customers, they can provide crucial insights and suggestions that can boost innovation. However, they’re also frequently under-utilised and disengaged.


Toyota, for one, has perfected the art of soliciting front-line feedback for innovation, including:

  • Pioneering the Gemba walk, which takes senior managers to the front lines
  • Comprehensive established feedback mechanisms that allow for bottom-up flow of suggestions
  • Equipping front line workers with the necessary skills and knowledge required to understand (and thus give feedback for) the entire process


3. Stigmatising risk & failure

Company cultures that penalise risk-taking and attach highly negative stigmas to failure discourage innovative behaviour. Any process of innovation necessitates experimentation, which by default opens up the possibility of failure and taking risks that won’t pay off. If your people are afraid to take the plunge and fail, innovation will never be your strong suit.


Additionally, if the organisational priority is always to cut costs and eliminate uncertainty, the process of experimentation is likely to be continuously sidelined, thus severely crippling innovation. As Mark Zuckerberg put it, “the greatest successes come from having the freedom to fail.”


Hiring criteria

Good innovators need spadefuls of grit and resourcefulness to be successful. According to economist Joseph Schumpeter, those who “seek out difficulties… and [take] delight in ventures” are crucial in driving innovation. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt concurs; according to him, the two most important criteria in a prospective hire are persistence and curiosity.



Reward failure

To successfully de-stigmatise failure, you need to change the way people think about it. P&G, for example, has a “Heroic Failure Award,” while Tata has a “Dare to Try” award, both of which turn traditional conceptions of failure on its head.


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