Archive for Design / business / innovation

(Lack of) innovation at NASA

10 February 2009

Excellent video made by NASA engineers describing some of the barriers to innovation at NASA. As someone who has worked as an innovation consultant, this strikes me as a brilliant analysis of the most pervasive obstacles to innovation faced by many established companies: low tolerance for risk, siloing, hierarchical corporate cultures, overly complicated procedural requirements, and adverse incentives for management.

What is interesting is that many of these factors that inhibit innovation actually serve the organization well when it comes to performing its primary function – maintaining an existing product line or brand. With an established brand, you don’t want to take risks, so you reward management decisions that provide incremental growth and you implement complex procedures that help to weed out risky moves that might damage brand value. Hierarchical cultures place high value on experience over ideas, which ensures that tried and true methods will win out over more risky ones. This is what makes it so hard for established companies to innovate and why can they become vulnerable to smaller startups. The organizations most known for innovation have found ways to cultivate a counterculture within their midst, often by either hiving off separate divisions that have their own oversight and that function like startups (Apple, for example), or by giving employees paid time to work on their own ideas and projects (3M, Google).

Thanks, Dad, for sending this my way.