Why Do Innovative Ideas Get Prematurely Abandoned? A Way Forward.

Ioannis Kratsiotis – Doctoral Research, University of Manchester

Innovation is considered one of the cornerstones of organisational growth and competitiveness. While the concept of innovation is most commonly associated with ground-breaking technological advancements, in reality a significant proportion of innovative initiatives are directed at improving administrative procedures and day to day work practices and routines.

The process of innovation starts with the generation of a new and potentially beneficial idea, the introduction of the idea within the workplace, and terminates with the transformation of the idea into some tangible form of constructive change.  

Each of the three stages of the process are equally important, but it has been stressed that the main problem organisations face is not the lack of ideas, but the difficulty the idea creators face in successfully promoting their innovative ideas. While an innovative idea can be produced by a single individual in total isolation, the subsequent promotion and implementation is much more complicated as it is a sociopolitical process requiring the co-ordination and co-operation of several parties. Failure to successfully promote an idea within the workplace leads to the premature abandonment of the proposed innovation, without being given the chance to demonstrate its value. 

It makes perfect sense that an innovative idea can only be implemented within an organisational setting when others have been persuaded of its value, its utility, its applicability and its compatibility to individual and organisational objectives. Forcing any kind of change to others without their consent is hardly the best way to proceed in modern day organisations. After all, the evaluation of an innovative idea by one’s colleagues is also a form of quality control. Undoubtedly, not all ideas justify the investment of time and resources. Nevertheless, the rejection of an idea is not always due to its poor perceived quality, but lies to reasons external to the value of the idea. 

Several studies have shown that people are often biased against creative and innovative ideas, even if overtly they value creativity and innovation. This bias is particularly strong when it comes to highly novel and radical ideas. Innovation is a process by definition implies change. However, as it is often the case, change is associated with feelings of insecurity and dear of the unknown. Highly novel ideas provoke a greater degree of uncertainty and skepticism, and can be perceived as potentially disruptive of the organisational norms and practices. Uncertainty though, is not a desirable state and people are often lacking motivation to commit themselves in a process with an unknown outcome. Thus, people tend to reject and resist the adoption of novel ideas in favour of less original ideas with the potential to be minimally disruptive. 

Furthermore, propositions of radical change in the workplace are often associated with a risky period of turbulence during the transition from an existing status quo to another, larger margins for failure, threats to established routines, and potential conflicts of interest. Thus, radical ideas often face high resistance for reasons that are often beyond the idea itself, but lie to the natural inclination of people to avoid potentially disruptive situations. The organisational psychology literature has labelled this natural inclination as dispositional resistance to change. Dispositional resistance is manifested by reluctance to lose control, cognitive rigidity, inability to adapt to change and new situations, and a preference over familiar situations and habitual behaviours. Hence, overcoming resistance and dissolving potential conflicts of interest and priorities, thus persuading the members of the organisation to commit to the proposed change, is the most critical factor for the success of the innovative process. 

So how should individuals and organisations go about overcoming this problem? 

Unfortunately the existing academic literature of innovative work behaviour has so far concentrated its focus on generic guidelines rather than on what employees should actually do in order to overcome potential resistance and further their innovative endeavours. However, preliminary evidence from an ongoing research projects conducted at the department of Organisational Psychology at the University of Manchester has identified and examined a set of specific behaviours and strategies that have been shown to be associated with an increased likelihood of successfully promoting innovative ideas. Example behaviours that have been shown to enable the successful transition of an idea to the implementation stage are among others; engaging in detailed and proactive planning, establishing effective communication channels, encouraging the active participation of colleagues in the formulations of the idea, being reflective on the process and the feedback received and applying a variety of influence and persuasion tactics.  

Following the completion of the aforementioned research project that will map the behavioural elements of the process of innovation, it will become possible to also examine the organisational factors that enable employees to fully exploit their innovative potential, as well as the personality characteristics of the individuals who are more likely to initiate and successfully complete innovative endeavours. Therefore, this research project can provide a detailed framework which the academia can inform the industry on how to recruit employees with a higher innovative potential and how to shape the workplace environment and thus reap the benefits of having a vibrant and pro-innovative culture infused in the organisation. 

If you would like to participate in this research project and assist in the effort to highlight the individual and contextual factors that promote or hinder the employees’ innovative endeavours, please click here. [no longer accepting participants]

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