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Barriers to Innovation and New Product Development
Part 4 - The Idea Killer

Published 12 December 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, 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.

The Idea Killer

How many times have you heard this one, ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work.’ What is this person’s motivation? Genuine concern that the business is going to waste time and money pursuing something that they know will not succeed? I think not. Embarrassment that some young upstart has suggested a potentially good idea and they haven’t? More likely, and it’s always going to be an older versus younger person scenario, because only an older person will have been in the business long enough to have ‘tried it before’. And it’s almost always an older ‘technical’ person, maybe a technical manager who has been in their position for 20+ years, who doesn’t want to have his or her technical, guru-like knowledge and superiority challenged. I certainly experienced this memorable moment several times in the first couple of decades of my career. Can these people really not hear the words that are coming out of their mouth? Don’t they realise how foolish they sound? 

Whilst I have been guilty of creating a few of the barriers listed in this series of short articles myself early in my career (you only learn by making mistakes after all), for this one I can definitely say I have never dropped the ‘idea killer’ into a meeting. Now of course it may be true that the suggestion has been looked at before in one form or another in the past by the business, but the past is the past. Today can bring different people onto the problem, with different approaches and skills, different techniques, and there may be new technology around today that wasn’t available 20 years ago when the idea was last worked on. There may be very good reasons why it didn’t work 20 years ago and they might be nothing to do with the idea or approach, it may have been a funding issue, an issue with higher priorities at the time or an issue with internal politics, none of which are anything to do with the idea itself. So if an idea was a good idea 20 years ago, it’s probably still a good idea today and needs to be assessed against other options to solve a problem as if it’s a fresh idea. 

I have also experienced a few occasions when technology we worked on was ahead of its time and the industry or market was not ready to make use of it, and some of these we resurrected successfully 10, 15 or even 20 years later. Also, if you’re the project manager or leading the department, it is your duty as a leader to support and encourage your more junior members, not cut them off and make them feel inadequate. In addition, if there is history on the idea that was not successful 20 years ago, then that could give you a valuable head start in terms of avoiding blind alleys and finding routes of attack with more likelihood of success. So please, never utter these words; ‘We tried that before and it didn’t work’.

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

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