Blog Innovation

Blog Innovation


5 for 5: fear of innovation and ways to deal with it

by: Derar Al Manaseer – Director – Strategy Management & Excellence

As the Director of Strategy Management at ADNEC, one of Abu Dhabi’s state-owned enterprises, I have been a champion of developing innovation. It is something we have pursued as a part of our corporate culture since early 2016.

ADNEC’s journey started with building a foundation for innovation across its business units through focused training that covers management fundamentals and principles. We later invested in building a physical space – the “ADNEC Innovation Lab” -- to nurture and support this, and coupled it with a tailored acceleration program called “Tanfeeth” (which means “execution” in Arabic) to kick start ideas and speed up adoption.

As we travelled this path and I dealt with colleagues at ADNEC, as well as talked to my peers outside of the company (such as external colleagues or representatives of other governmental entities) about the issue, I realised the fear of innovation stems from the threat it poses to the status quo.

Simply put, innovation takes us out of our comfort zone. Quite often this attitude is also mixed with low expectations. There is a perception that very few positive results may come out of trying something new or different.

From my experience, this behavior or mindset comes down to several reasons:

1- We inherit procedures from past experiences and have a desire to keep things as they are. We like to feel comfortable with what we know and avoid the “fear of the unknown”

2- Fear of failure. In most cases we don’t like to take risks and try new stuff. What if it doesn’t work? Who is to be blamed? This fear of trying something new or violating an assumption keeps us within limited boundaries. They are constraints we have created simply due to fear. Innovation, or trying something that was never done or tested before, requires courage and boldness. Failure and disappointment may come, but to succeed we have to try. You learn far more from mistakes and failures than successes.

3- Some of us have skeptical nature when it comes to “corporate” ideas and view innovation as a fancy buzz word or “corporate speak” that leads to nothing.

4- Some regard innovation as technology. They perceive it in most cases as use of technology and application of tools and software. According to this group, innovation should be dealt with by technology teams (IT, ICT, Automation, electronics), which is not true. Implementing new ideas may require technology but one should not think of it as programming language. In regards to innovation, technology is often the last piece of the puzzle that answers the “how” after all the other steps have developed the idea, analysed it, tested the proposal, validated the concept and may not require any technological understanding or background.

5- One classic argument is this: “We have a unique business model and what works for others may not work for us”. Well my friends, there is no such thing as a unique business model.

If you talk to anyone who has championed innovation and worked as an internal ambassador to develop and spread a culture of innovation at a company, I would bet he or she has experienced those challenges and has had a hard time convincing people how good innovation can be for an organisation.

So how do we deal with these challenges? There are several things we can do, such as:

1- Awareness through dialogue and conversation with key business unit representatives. The message has to be repeated and disseminated.

2- Follow the top down, challenged-based approach in which the organisation identifies a core area (challenge or opportunity) and asks staff to come up with solutions addressing this area, utilising key innovation principles and techniques. This is the essence of accelerators. By taking this approach, staff see and feel tangible benefits from the personal experience, and this in turn raises their buy in.

3- Provide high quality innovation certificate programmes that enrich knowledge and provide long-term career benefits and CV enrichment value to employees.

4- Link innovation and problem solving exercises to rewards and motivation.

5- Review the recruitment process and focus on entrepreneurial and startup-style candidates. An organisation has to inject new blood full of innovation DNA.

Then finally, try hard every time. There is much to be learned in the process.

Read more about ADNEC Group's Innovation Strategy.
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