19 Clear Signs Your Company is Under-Investing in Innovation

By Scott Kirsner |  June 8, 2017

Do executives at your company like to say the word “innovation” a lot — but hate to actually commit budget to it?

That’s the case at many companies that aren’t serious about using their R&D and innovation teams to create real competitive advantage, but simply want to make it look like they’re keeping pace with the other companies in their sector. Under-investing, though, is usually painfully obvious to people who work in the company — people notice when there are no resources to move good ideas into the market — and it’s usually apparent to those outside the company, too.

We asked a group of anonymous InnoLead members to help us assemble a list of some of the indicators that your company is under-investing in innovation.

1. Executives in the lines of business assert that they’re handling innovation — which winds up looking like new features, incremental upgrades, and redesigned packaging.

2. The management off-site features a keynote speaker who reels off anecdotes about Google, Tesla, Apple, and Airbnb. The following year: Different speaker, same anecdotes.

3. The top prize at the quarterly hackathon or idea challenge is a lightly-used Fitbit.

4. Innovation group has the budget for whiteboards and Post-It Notes — but not to actually prototype anything or test a prototype with customers.

5. Executives are obsessed with direct competitors, and most energy goes toward mimicking their offerings and trying to undercut their prices.

6. Customers think of you like the electric or cable company — they pay for your product grudgingly and wish the customer service was better.

7. Even the best ideas from your employee crowdsourcing competitions languish afterwards, because no one can carve out the time to operationalize them. (But employees will be expected to “innovate” again a year from now.)

8. Executives on the innovation committee are tacitly encouraged to poke holes and say no to things as a way of conserving resources — rather than pursuing growth and opportunity. (Especially when their business unit or function will have to put some “skin in the game” to make it happen.)

9. Every potentially transformative idea faces an IT implementation queue that’s six-months long, or is greeted with responses like, “Oh, we tried something like that eight years ago.”

10. The R&D/innovation team is expected to go out to benchmark how other companies innovate and learn best practices, but there’s a travel freeze.

11. Your innovation team regularly conducts off-site meetings at Panera to cope with your lack of collaborative space.

12. Outside of headquarters, when you introduce yourself to colleagues their main reaction is, “We have an innovation group?”

13. When the CEO talks about where new products and new directions come from, she can only cite mergers and acquisitions, nothing created internally.

14. The R&D group has trouble hiring recent graduates because the R&D lab looks like a time capsule from 1973, and the technology stack it is working on is similarly outdated.

15. You are proud of a matrix culture that supports collaboration, but the company lacks clear organizational accountability or resource responsibility to move innovation initiatives forward.

16. Most spending related to innovation involves advertising and marketing to build the company’s “innovation” brand.

17. Everyone is supposed to have “time to innovate.” But if someone misses a meeting or deliverable because they’re out of the office meeting with a startup or working on a “10 percent time” project, their reputation suffers.

18. A team of two employees with a very limited budget is expected to change the culture in a 20,000 person company.

19. The term “digital transformation” gets thrown around at nearly every meeting, but there is still no way for customers to do business with you digitally.

What other signs of under-investing have you seen? Post a comment below.