Why Is Innovation Hard?

What makes innovation easy?


In our paper, “Top Ten Hurdles to Innovation” we say:

“Innovation isn’t easy. Creating an idea that serves both the needs of consumers and the business is challenging, and tension is an inevitable part of the process…managing tension incorrectly can create barriers—or hurdles—to success.”

So while the path to innovation isn’t easy, it can be made easier if you set expectations, fall in love with ambiguity, and be ready for the long (and powerful) road ahead towards innovation.

Expectation: is everyone on the same page?

Before your innovation strategy project gets off the ground it’s vital that all parties are aligned.

Really aligned.

In 50% of innovation design projects, the majority of the progress is made in the last 10% of the projected timeline. This means, that for the vast majority of the project, the outcomes may not be obvious.

Setting expectations allows all stakeholders to not only take part in the innovation strategy, but ensures that everyone has realistic goals and launch objectives. In addition, setting expectations is an opportunity to test and understand an organization’s propensity toward innovation.

When it comes to innovation strategy projects, there is not always a correlation between time and progress. And so, the key to making any innovation strategy project work?


Strategy: why it’s important.  

The crux of any innovation initiative is, well, the strategy that is in place.

When our strategists come out of their research phase, “…the team is faced with a seemingly huge amount of loosely related data. Knowing how and where to start can be intimidating, and it’s tempting to throw up your hands. Yet the opportunity is in there. The key is to dive in with a process.”

That process, discovering the right strategy, is something that we love here at Altitude. We’re natural storytellers and listeners. “At Altitude, we dig into the information by simply telling the stories of the people we’ve met, observed, and interviewed. As we move through the personal stories, we make connections and see patterns emerge among the individuals. This work helps us tell the story of the group and becomes the foundation of the innovation strategy and the starting point for ideas.”

Once we’ve helped to dissect the stories and their meanings, this is where we are able to help to further your innovation strategy.

And how might we do that? For us, it may start with a prototype. Regardless of the type of project, from industrial design to UX, there is a prototype to help us refine your innovative design.

So many prototypes. So little time.

We’re a team of makers here at Altitude. We love to create things, out of virtually anything. Whether it is using foam core board with post-its or printing prototypes off the 3D printer, no matter what, we’re ready to build.

The purpose of prototypes is simple. It allows us the opportunity to test out ideas, sometimes with customers, in order to understand if it’s working. During one of our most recent projects, three prototypes were being tested but no one design was winning the heart of the consumers. That can be a typical experience, though it might not feel that way to a client. Our Director of Strategy explains:

“A clear pattern emerged as to what was driving consumer reaction—something on which to base a new round of designs. Meanwhile, the clients were disheartened. Despite our best efforts to explain the good news, they viewed the project as a failure. That is, until we showed them the design based on the learning from the product test. They looked at the test as an end point, while we looked at it as a new starting point.”

Who drives the innovation strategy?

As practitioners, we’re excited to drive forward plans to help develop innovation strategies that lead to innovative design for companies. However, no matter what, each company needs an executive champion on the inside who can help champion the project.

This executive sponsor is vital to help more innovation projects move forward at a company. You also need an innovation project leader who not only owns the project and can work with our team, but someone who is visionary and is comfortable with the murky (but exciting) path forward.

Click here to delve deeper into “Top Ten Hurdles to Innovation”, from project kickoff to market testing, and what can cause an innovation project to fail—or how to manage to success.

Gretchen Hoffman

Posted By: 

Gretchen Hoffman

VP Marketing