Articles 2 min read

The Seven Sins of Innovation by Dr Dave Richards

I often get asked what I learned as a co-founder and member of the MIT Innovation Lab. The short answer is, it’s all in my book (available worldwide from publisher Springer Nature – Palgrave Macmillan and the usual online sources and stores), recently translated into Chinese. The Seven Sins of Innovation: A Strategic Model for Entrepreneurship “elevates the thinking on this crucial subject to the highest level” according to Roger Lacey, Chief Strategy Officer of 3M. A longer answer is offered in this article.

Innovation remains notoriously difficult – and misunderstood based on a plethora of ill-conceived definitions. On the one hand, the innovation imperative – the desire to create and manifest value experience in relationships – is an integral aspect of human nature, the human psyche, and spirit. This is the essential spirit of entrepreneurship. But being a successful entrepreneur, and achieving strategically important, significant, substantial and sustainable innovation results is (shall we say with a considerable dose of an understatement) difficult.

Doblin Group and others continue to report that innovation success rates (achieving desired results through focused investment of resources) remain sub-10% across all areas of human enterprise. One of the key reasons for founding the MIT Innovation Lab was to try to understand this, and to explore whether we could find ways to systematically and sustainably improve innovation success rates within the member companies.

When we first started the Lab in 1993, we began by sharing what was working best, our successes, and examples of successful innovation within our areas of business focus. The initial members were all involved in telecoms, but one (Nortel Networks) as a network technology supplier, one (NYNEX) as a service provider, and one (3M) as a test equipment supplier. We were able to share openly, as non-competitive business entities. The sharing got much more interesting once we opened up, and began sharing our pain, our failures, and what kept us awake at night. When we began a process of deeper, more authentic sharing, the lightbulb moments became much more frequent and powerful. We began to understand that insights leading to innovation can and often do happen by accident, but that the hard path from idea to successful reality is a road best travelled without accidents. The degree of success or failure (defined in terms of returns on investments) could be understood and even predicted based on factors that could be measured, monitored and adjusted.

There are literally dozens of specific reasons innovation initiatives fail, falling into three broad and interrelated categories – organizational characteristics (e.g., silo mentality), internal process factors (e.g., weak project leadership), and external engagement factors (e.g., failure to differentiate between users, choosers & influencers). But absolutely all of the specific reasons, and overall success or failure rates, can be understood based on seven aspects of human nature, or psychology, which translate into seven aspects of group psychology, or organizational culture, and which relate to seven elements of strategy, almost universally found in all strategic management frameworks. These can be summarized as ‘seven sins’, and also ‘seven virtues’ – simply opposite sides of the coin. The key to creating an enterprise capable of strategically significant, substantial and sustainable innovation is to maximize the virtues, and minimize the sins – through systematic bridging of culture and strategy.

In my book, and client workshops provided to hundreds of leaders and teams around the world, I show how the above model relates to lots of wisdom already out there – such as 3M’s Seven Pillars of Innovation, Google’s Eight Pillars (two relate to the same thing), Steve Job’s Seven Secrets of Success, McKinsey’s 7S model, and more – including the ancient ayurvedic concept of seven chakras – human energy centres. One way to think of the leadership challenge is to create ‘flow’. If there is no blockage in any of the centers, the result is a perfect 100% = 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1 x 1. But if one centre (aspect of strategy linked to culture/psyche) is totally blocked, the result is 0%. In reality, most organizations function between 5% and 50%, and the gains that can be achieved by focusing on psychological and strategic improvements and alignment are enormous.

Special offer to BTN Members: Free chat, and if you qualify, a free presentation on the Seven Sins of Innovation.

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