Enterprise / Innovation

The Innovation Drain

Man sleeping at his desk

I’ve previously talked about the Innovation Superstar. One of the Superstar’s most prevailing and destructive foes is the Innovation Drain.

If you’re involved in innovation it’s likely you will have come across the Drain: an individual who is involved (with some responsibility) in the innovation programme but who will go out of their way to stop change from happening. Learn how to spot an Innovation Drain, what causes a Drain, and what to do if you have one:

1. How to spot an Innovation Drain
Innovation Drains often use a common set of weapons in their attempt to destroy an innovation programme. These tools can make them deadly- but they also make them easy to spot.
     Loves a Go-Slow
The Drain loves to slow things down. Some of the Drain’s favourite tactics are citing and introducing bureaucracy whenever possible, and having holidays/ days off/ missed meetings at the most inconvenient times.
     Failure to think big picture
Drains focus on process, technology and tools rather than the programme. Spot the person complaining that a miscoloured button is causing the innovation programme to fail… that’s likely to be your Drain.
     Fan of the firedrill
Do you know someone that likes causing a panic, spreading concerns outside of the team, or calling a halt with an exaggerated security problem? Those firedrills are usually unnecessary and unhelpful, and can often be sourced to a Drain.

2. Common causes of an Innovation Drain
Many things can prompt a Drain to behave as they do, but it’s usual to find that the Drain has his interests- rather than the interests of the company or his team- at heart.
     The Fear
The most common cause. The Drain is often afraid of change, the potential to be left exposed, and the possibility of failure. Check out my colleague Anthony Ferrier’s “Addressing the fear of innovation” for more on this.
     Job comfort
Ties in with The Fear: the Drain may be concerned about the impact on his job as successful innovations may change peoples’ roles or reduce the need for so many employees.
    Lack of belief
One of the hardest parts of introducing an innovation programme is changing the company culture. Innovation programmes are still an unknown concept to many, and they aren’t something everyone gets or wants to get.

3. What do to if you have an Innovation Drain
There will always be haters, and many can be ignored. If the Drain is destroying the progress of the innovation programme, however, then you should do something about it.
Be patient. Innovation programmes are still an unusual concept and people are afraid of the unknown. Bring the Drain on board step by step, keeping them up to date and helping them to lead parts of the project.
Prove that it works, and that innovation is an opportunity rather than a threat. Be open about both successes and failures, however: it’s better to be honest than to have the Drain discover it elsewhere.
Be positive and persistent with the programme and your belief in it. If all else fails, take it to the top. If your organisation is serious about innovation then unhelpful blockers should be removed.


Have you come across an Innovation Drain, or even- were you a Drain? Share how you overcame it in the comments.


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