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PHOTO: Zan

So many companies are focused on — if not obsessed with — finding the next innovation. Yet so few are inventing anything. “Innovation” normally goes beyond something that is slightly improved or an evolution of a previous version of the product. To fit most people’s definition, your innovation would have to be new, never-before-seen and something that completely wows people. Consider how the world changed when VCRs became available to consumers. VCRs redefined how we watched shows and movies.

The Key Reasons Your Company Isn’t Innovating

1. You're ripping off the competition

You're asking your customer experience (CX) or user experience (UX) specialists, visual designers or others to “just do what that other guy does.” Sometimes the order is to copy a competitor, but “try to make it a little better.” This paints your workers into corners of not being able to be creative, or not being given the time or budget to use a solid research, architecture, testing and iteration process.

We cannot be innovative if we are partially or wholly copying one or more competitors. We should work to find a completely fresh solution that is a great match to our target customers. If your company believes it’s better to release a stripped-down version of something quickly, the focus can’t be innovation.

2. You hire the wrong people

Because some companies prefer compliant workers who will do whatever stakeholders or co-workers ask, your company might have hired “short-order cooks.” These are people who might be creative, but thrive in an environment where they're given concrete directions on exactly what to create. The opposite of that is “interface scientists,” who are problem finders, problem solvers and are never order-takers.

Interface scientists do not want overprescribed requirements or to mock up the solution someone else has already decided on. They want to use their CX skills, talent and expertise to understand customer problems, pain points, complaints and task completion difficulties so they can find the best execution of the best idea.

When companies don't assess talent well, and are not aware of these two different types of workers, it's very easy to hire a short order cook visual designer when you wanted a CX interface scientist. Short order cooks can be great additions to companies. However, they are usually not the type of people who are solving our biggest strategic product challenges nor are they the ones likely to innovate.

Related article: Do You Need a Short Order Cook or an Interface Scientist?

3. Overreliance on team workshops

It's all the rage right now to sequester six to 10 people in a room for a week, give them a bunch of exercises, and imagine that by the end of the week, you will have solutions and innovations. Endless training companies and certificates promise to make you a workshop facilitator that will lead teams to innovation. But is that really what’s happening? What becomes of most of the sketched ideas when that week ends? How many are ultimately released to our customers and how many are shelved, costing us money without ROI?

If we look at some of the greatest innovations of the last 10 to 30 years, these did not come from a team of people doing prefabricated exercises in a room for a week. Very often these innovations were the results of months or sometimes years of work by a “research and development” department. We didn't give these people a week and some sticky notes. We gave them the time and resources they needed to develop something innovative or disruptive for their company.

In today's fast-paced world, we feel like we don't have years to accomplish these things, though many innovative projects ultimately require many months or years. If you review Apple's hardware design process, summarized in this article, you'll see the company takes many months to develop and attempt to perfect new hardware, even changing the hardware during manufacturing cycles.

If you follow innovations, then you are aware of Disney’s MagicBands, wearables that serve as the hotel key, park ticket, photo account, room charge and so much more. They started rolling out in 2013, but some of the patents related to MagicBands were filed as early as 2010. Disney is a great model for not rushing concepts to market when innovating.

Related Article: From Control to Curiosity: The Starting Point of Innovation

4. Skimping on the processes most likely to create innovation

Remember when software development meant that someone wrote requirements and gave them to developers, who decided what the interface looked like and how it worked? How many innovations were created from that process?

While great ideas can come from anyone, the team most likely to invent something new is your CX team. Your customer researchers, interaction architects and the testing they can do are set up to determine the best solutions for customers. When enough time and budget are allocated to these processes they can lead to innovation that solves problems, propelling your company ahead of others.

5. Too much pressure to innovate or disrupt

If your No. 1 focus is speed, not quality, and the vibe of your workplace is faster, faster, faster, you will certainly get things out quickly. But these products, services or experiences (PSE) could be frustrating, confusing, disappointing or even angering to real or potential customers.

Many of the people working in the development of PSE are often stretched too thin. Budgets don’t allow for more headcount or external freelancers, leaving these folks completely overworked. This rarely puts people in a good space to invent something new.

Some companies believe if they put out a ping pong table and some free beer, people will be relaxed, happy and more creative and innovative. But if the overall culture of these workplaces is frantic and the pressure is always high, these efforts will not really help.

Related Article: Why Trust and Candor Are at the Heart of an Agile Culture

Innovation Isn’t Everything

While the PSE can be evolutionary, hopefully improving with each new version, it may rarely be innovative. That’s OK. Success can come without innovation. Some people believe that Apple’s last great innovation was the introduction of the iPhone. That was 2007, yet despite not innovating much or anything since then, Apple is wildly popular and successful. While we want to shoot for innovation where we can truly invent something new, we can achieve great success without innovation or disruption.

If your customers still struggle with accomplishing tasks well on your site, in your app, or within your system, perhaps innovation isn’t where your resources and attention should be focused right now. Is there tech debt in the backlog? Is the site slow to load and slow to react to customers’ input? Are your support reps overwhelmed with calls and tickets from frustrated customers? Are users running into failures and defects that should have been fixed during the design or engineering phases?

If so, you have your work cut out for you: Your backlog will be full for quite a while. Innovation and disruption can be remarkable, but start making the process changes and business transformation that will create better quality PSE first.