Barriers to Innovation and New Product Development
Part 1 - Technical Jargon
Published 23 November 2018
To create, develop and nurture new ideas and transform them into successful new product launches for your business, you will always be fighting on two fronts – externally (customers, the market, competitors, regulations, etc.) and internally (organisational structure, Not Invented Here Syndrome, etc.). In this series of short articles, we identify many of the internal barriers you are likely to have to deal with during your career and how you might overcome them.
For innovation and new product development to be successful, of course process is important. All the templates, spreadsheets and checklists that businesses typically use are important for bringing order to the chaos and for helping to make sense of the huge amounts of data you have to work through, but all of this will not bring you success on its own, will not deliver you successful new products. Why? Because innovation is primarily about people. You can bring all the process you want to the party, but if you do not have the skills and experience to get people to work together and to buy into the new process, success will not follow. Without an understanding of the barriers and major challenges you will face in trying to implement your New Product Development process into your organisation, and how to attempt to overcome them, the rest of your New Product Development process will just become a time wasting, resource draining, stress creating, box ticking, frustration generating exercise.
The overuse of technical jargon within a business creates a significant barrier to understanding, which can block effective communication of the benefits of your products and technology throughout the organisation and especially to your customers. Every business I have ever worked in has developed its own unique language which has grown up over many years. Every day you hear people using acronyms and special terminology which is unique to the business, to the products, the technology and the manufacturing processes, so you will hear people talk about ‘N135 mix’ or ‘ingotisation’ or ‘PQ department’ or some other jargon. And every industry is guilty of this, whether your business is writing software, mining bauxite, designing medical devices, whatever, we are all guilty of it.
When you are a newcomer to any business, this language of jargon is a real barrier to your integration into the business and it takes a lot of time before you soak up all the terminology, sometimes years. And if you actually stop and ask someone what N135 is, even some of the people who have been working there a long time and have been using the jargon for years don’t actually know. How crazy is that? People normally start using the same ‘jargon language’ as everyone else in the business when they first join, so that they fit in and don’t look stupid. ‘What, you don’t know what N135 is?’
I actually worked at one company that was based on quite a large site, and people used to talk about the various manufacturing departments by the codes that were used for the buildings they were housed in, e.g. PQ or PD or TP department, but get this, these buildings had been knocked down three years previously and the processes rehoused into a completely new building! Yet people were still talking about the manufacturing departments by these old, defunct building codes, can you believe it? As an outsider coming into a business, it is amazing how you can see things with fresh eyes as to how ludicrous they are. And it is a very valuable service you can bring to any business you join to speak up and stamp out such nonsense, it only serves to hold a company back.
Technical jargon is especially an issue when you are young, just starting your career, and don’t know any better. Fortunately, as you get older you realise this is all just nonsense and now if I hear jargon I don’t understand I just stop and ask the person what it means. It is important to understand that this internal language is a significant barrier to developing successful new products, not only internally in terms of suppressing understanding within your business, but also externally, because people get so used to talking in their business’ ‘jargon language’ that they actually use it when they visit customers! Why do you think your customer would know what N135 was, or even care? They have their own company internal language/jargon to handle, they don’t need to be confused with yours as well.
So my advice on all this internal language/jargon barrier is that you need to learn to talk in simple terms that everyone in the room will understand, if you have to use jargon, explain it clearly in layman’s terms. Some people seem to think using technical jargon makes them somehow superior (i.e. the old ‘knowledge is power’ concept), but these days it just shows you up to be a poor communicator. Nowadays, I take every opportunity to try to stamp out the use of jargon in any business I work in.
Dr Andy Wynn
Managing Director, TTIP Consulting
Adapted from the book ‘Transforming Technology into Profit – a guide to leading new ideas through the complexities of the corporate world and transforming them into successful new products’, available now on Amazon