I met with a client this week and one of her key priorities was to accelerate and improve their innovation results.

Her key question to me was:

What is really stopping our managers from being more innovative?

This is a good question.

From my experience a better question might be:

At what level are our innovation barriers most significant?

Barriers to innovation exist at many different levels in an organisation.

These different levels are leadership, cultural, team and individual.

When developing strategies to overcome these barriers it is useful to determine at which level the barriers exist.

It may well be that a barrier might exist at one level but not at another.

Perhaps the most important barrier to innovation is leadership.

If the leaders themselves do not value innovation then all is lost.

They must recognise, fund, reward and encourage innovation at every opportunity.

At this level, paradoxically past success is major barrier — it has worked in the past so why change?

The leaders own behaviour also can be a major impediment — if they do not try and measure their innovation efforts why would anyone else take it seriously?

The next innovation barrier is cultural.

These include such items as the attitude to risk and failure, openness to new ideas, the level of collaboration and the degree of experimentation.

Many managers for example make the mistake of studying the innovation process of an innovative business (which can be easily copied) rather than exploring what makes an innovative culture (which is much harder to build and replicate).

Team barriers to innovation

It may well be that the main barriers are at the team level. It could be that there is not enough divergence in a team for example.

Or their is little team spirit, trust or communication within the team.

Or communication within different teams for that matter!

This is important to determine because increasingly more and more work is being done in teams.

So building engaged, innovative and productive teams is a key responsibility for any team leader.

Individual barriers to innovation.

This is an often overlooked aspect of innovation in my experience.

Individual barriers can be such items as confidence in one’s creativity, belief in its importance and attitude to risk.

It can also revolve around existing work-loads and time available.

This is why any successful innovation program creates value to the business and appeals to an individual’s self-interest (e.g. this can help you to become noticed or make your job simpler, easier and more efficient etc).

Overcoming the barriers to innovation is a necessary prerequisite for any sustainable innovation program.

The starting point is to determine at which level the specific barriers are located.

Only then can plans and actions be put in place to overcome these innovation barriers and let ideas and creativity flourish.

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