Thinking | Articles

Why Complex Innovations Never Succeed

‘Innovation Pork’ is the bulking up of an innovation solution with the intention of increasing its perceived value, all while reducing its certainty of success.


Todd Rovak

Managing Partner, Chief Executive Officer | Managing Partner

Farenheit 212

You’ve landed in a good place, maybe even a great place. Your solid front-end innovation effort, driving a disciplined focus on both consumer and business needs, has produced a compelling solution to the growth challenge. More than just an idea, this solution has strong commercial and market sensibility and the senior leadership team has bought into your view and this buy-in has provided you with the green light to proceed into the implementation phase. You cannot be more thrilled about the re-entry opportunity that lies before you. In your eyes, you have a live assignment! However, in the eyes of the rest of the organization, you are live bait!

Your innovation solution has the rapt attention of senior management. Elsewhere, astute, political individuals within the core organization know this only too well, and, to borrow a political analogy, are all about to saddle your “sure-to-pass” innovation, or bill with as many earmarks as they can. They have been waiting on the sidelines with pet projects, agendas and stalled initiatives that are looking for just the kind of slipstream that your innovation might provide.

But what is Innovation Pork?

In your eyes, you have a live assignment! However, in the eyes of the rest of the organization, you are live bait!
Innovation Pork: the bulking up of an innovation solution with the intention of increasing its perceived value, all while reducing its certainty of success.

We recently experienced this at Fahrenheit 212. A compelling, discrete digital innovation solution we’d developed for an internal sales team, spiraled to include a rebuild of the organization’s mobile ERP system, an impact on in-house training and competency programs, a re-examination of existing workflows, and an imposition as an employee audit tool. While all commercially worthy of examination, from an implementation predictability point of view, these additions could significantly impact the probability of the innovation’s success.

Given that your mandate, whether an internal innovation lead, or an external innovation partner, is to deliver predictable value. How does one approach the challenges in Innovation Pork?

  1. Create a Stakeholder Map
    Every innovation implementation will, at a discrete level, create a set of organizational winners and losers, even if the net-net for the organization is positive. You need to map out who these groups or individuals are. Try to be as exhaustive as possible. Assign a score to stakeholders based on their proximity to the innovation implementation. In the case of our client, the digital innovation was sure to touch the broader IT group, which scored high. HR and Legal, peripheries to our initiative, scored low.
  2. Attach goals and ambitions to each stakeholder and prioritize
    For each stakeholder group or individual, detail their responsibilities and ambitions. How would they win, how would they lose? What would they be pushing on the organization if they were in your place? What would their contextual view of the innovation be? In our example above, an innovative digital sales force application opens up multiple opportunities: for HR to drive e-learning; for Operations an audit tool; and for IT a technology upgrade. Using the proximity scoring from your stakeholder mapping exercise, rank these in order from high to low score.
  3. Determine what leads and what follows
    Segment your list into items that could bolster the predictability of your innovation solution’s success, as you enter early experimentation, pilot or implementation. Consider how those that could increase predictability might become part of the initiative going forward and therefore lead. Develop a robust rationale for why those that might increase complexity and reduce the predictability of your success, might need to wait, and thus follow. In our case, adopting a new mobile Operating System would bring an increased level of capability in terms of speed and engagement, enhancing the adoption and usability of our more modern digital application – both critical drivers of early success. Capabilities around the delivery of e-learning for HR, or those around auditing the field force remotely for Ops, while attractive, would be better off being pushed back and become part of a later phase.
  4. Reach out to the broader group
    With your ‘what leads and what follows” segmentation, and your stakeholder priority list, develop a plan to approach each stakeholder with a robust rationale that lays out the sequencing and priority, of how you might be able to deliver value to them, but stay focused on the one priority for you, and that’s the predictability of your innovation, successfully getting through the implementation phase.
What you want is to avoid the complex innovation and opt for the minimal viable solution.
Remember, to ensure that your innovation reaches the marketplace and increases your company’s revenues and profits, what you want is the minimal viable innovation. This is an innovation that has the necessary support and nurturing to increase its chance of success, and not be weighed down and distracted by additions that increase the complexity and likelihood of failure.