When Innovation dies

Organisations and individuals alike want to become innovative. Some are really innovative, while even more claim they are innovative. When something we thrive for both as individuals and as organisations is finally achieved the even bigger battle begins. Remaining innovative is so much harder than becoming it. That is why we see so many companies and individuals, who fall down from the peak very rapidly.

I am writing this article because we have just witnessed a brilliant or tragic (depending on perspective) example today, 12. September 2018. Apple had its annual presentation of its new iPhones etc. Both Tim Cook and the product managers said exactly the same thing as last year and the year before. “It is the fastest iPhone we have ever built”, “The battery lasts longer than ever before” etc. What was different this year was, that you could hear that both Tim Cook and Philip W. Schiller had lost the enthusiasm. They knew they were repeating themselves and they could feel the disappointment from the audience. We expect Apple to be different.

I still remember in 2007 when the first iPhone came out. I needed to have it. I remember when the coloured, cute iMacs came out. I needed to have one. I remember when the white iMac with the screen on an arm came out. I needed to have one. I haven’t felt that need for a very long time. I have an antique iPhone, which does what I need and I don’t change it as long as it is alive.

Why does innovation die?

It dies because it loses reason. We, both individuals and organisations become innovative because we have to not because we want to. Just think about how creative prisoners have been throughout history when they have escaped prison. Think about how creative people become during difficult times. Apple became creative because Steve Jobs had a mission. They were the underdogs and he wanted Apple to succeed and win. And they did. Today Apple has nothing to fight for, nothing to prove. It is one of the most admired companies in the world. They still make great products and the integration between them is great. I love them and have no plans for switching. But I still miss that wow feeling I often had in the old days when the revolutionised the It industry.

Maturity is not the only reason why innovation dies. In fact, it doesn’t have to be a reason at all. But the organisational culture change is. When you go from an innovative challenge culture to a self-satisfied mature culture you can’t maintain a high level of innovation. The change in corporate culture kills innovation.

How can an organisation be mature and still innovative?

Creating, nursing and maintaining creative organisational cultures has been something we have been helping our clients with since the early days of Gugin, Here is a list of factors that influences your ability to remain a creative organisation over a long period of time

  • Let people go, even the high performers, the bosses and the old heroes. The heroes in the company who invented the groundbreaking products or services have to leave before they become a liability. Even with their best intentions, they will become a liability because they have a natural authority that only few will challenge. That stops new ideas and new paradigms to emerge and with them a new culture.
  • Split the organisation into smaller autonomous entities that are free to experiment with new products, leadership models, strategies, motivation models, etc. Everything must be subject to change.
  • Force diversity into all teams at all levels. I am not talking about gender, but all sorts of diversity. Get people on board who are most sceptical about what you are doing and let them challenge you. Get people on board who have no clue about what you are doing. Miracles will happen. That is guaranteed. So are the disasters, but you will win in the end.
  • Find new (real) challenges all the time and stay committed to those challenges.
  • Do really, really crazy things. Whenever an established order is growing in the organisation, kill it. We have a whole catalogue of things you can do to shake up the organisation. The feeling of uncertainty and unpredictability fuels innovation.
  • When the organisation leans to rely on its culture instead of its rules you are close to having the right culture. But it takes time, energy and sacrifices.

Alternatively, you can decide just to become a cash cow that makes the owners wealthy until you perish. But hey! Life is too short for that – don’t you agree?

We will love to hear from you. What do you do to remain innovative? Also, feel free to let us know if we can give you some inspiration.


Dr Finn Majlergaard
Dr Finn Majlergaard

CEO Gugin, Professor, Keynote Speaker, Author

  • We align your corporate culture with your strategy.
  • We take you safely through major changes in your organisation.
  • We develop the crucial cultural intelligence in your organisation by training your employees and leaders
  • We help you develop a competitive advantage with a unique corporate culture

Gugin has helped more than 600 companies around the world creating a winning corporate culture.

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