Innovation  | 5 MIN. READ

The Four Pillars of Failure: Why Innovation Training Fails – And How to Ensure it Succeeds

Andrew Webster, August 9, 2018

Why innovation training fails - and how to ensure it succeedsBusiness leaders today know they have to innovate to survive. In a survey from CB Insights, 85 percent of executives said innovation is very important, though they struggle to deliver even incremental innovations to their product lines. For many organizations, the challenge is to codify innovative thinking and imbue it into company culture.


Organizations invest a lot of resources in these workshops and their intent is always clear – they want to change the way their company generates solutions to customer problems so they can be more agile in the face of an ever-transforming marketplace. When they don’t see a positive return on that investment it’s frustrating for everyone involved, and the business impact can be considerable.


Effective training on how to use design thinking is fundamental to changing the way companies ideate. But it only works if other significant changes are made. When these changes are overlooked, the training won’t generate meaningful change.


There are four pillars of failure that organizations must anticipate and plan for when undertaking any innovation transformation.



Many executives have grand ambitions when beginning a design thinking and innovation transformation. They may have read an article or attended a conference where everyone was talking about the need for innovation, and they decided they needed to get on board – and fast. The trouble is they think training alone will be enough to cause disruptive change. It’s not.


Becoming an innovative company is a complex change process that starts with training, but also requires leadership support, communication of the vision, culture change initiatives and new opportunities for employees to take deliberately small risks and interact with customers. Leaders need to recognize that these changes will be painful, and be prepared to face resistance from employees who are comfortable doing things the way they have always been done.


If executives really want to change their culture, they need to set realistic expectations for what training can do, and what other changes will be needed to sustain movement toward a more innovative future.


Innovation Method

One size never fits all – and that goes for innovation training too. Companies need to understand who and what they are trying to change in order to choose a method that conforms to the level of disruption they want to achieve.


There are many methods to choose from based on who is being trained, what kind of work they do, who they work with, and what kinds of transformation they want to achieve. For example, innovation management is great for leaders who need the skills to distribute resources across an innovation portfolio – but it’s not as valuable for project teams or frontline workers. Traditional R&D is highly science-based and designed to push engineers and researchers in new directions, but it is less suitable for user-focused challenges, and outside of these groups, has limited application.


Companies also need to consider the types of problems they need to solve and how innovative they want and need to be. Incremental innovation training methods may focus on fine-tuning what the team already does, whereas breakthrough innovation training tears-down long held assumptions and builds a new infrastructure for idea generation.


Training Method

Unlike other types of training, innovation training doesn’t just teach learners a new way to do things. It also has to teach them how and when to break bad habits so they can make room for innovative approaches to take hold. One key feature of innovation training is that it teaches groups how to be empathetic and open to new insights, while eliminating their tendency to make judgements and assumptions about what customers need. The training method to achieve this goal will vary based on the types of learners involved, the situations in which they will be applying innovation and the obstacles in their way.


When choosing a program, be sure the training offers opportunities to practice and explore the new approach with team members, and tools for course correction when old habits re-emerge.


Culture Change

Many business leaders assume that innovation only happens on the R&D team, or in product design groups, so they are the only ones who need training. This false assumption can decimate the value of even the best innovation training program. Once individual groups are trained, they return to the workplace with enthusiasm for a new way of doing things. But if the rest of the organization continues on with business as usual their big ideas are often met with confusion, disdain, or flat-out rejection. In that environment, enthusiasm quickly decays into cynicism and all they really learned is that the leaders who insisted they take the training are not invested in real change.


Instead, we encourage companies to train multidisciplinary teams of employees who can bring lessons learned back to their departments, and evangelize the benefits of design thinking with a balance of demonstrating new and valuable behaviors. They also need leaders who will champion this new behavior by supporting and promoting design thinking and innovation projects and clearing the runway when other managers get in the way of progress.


Becoming a company that thrives on innovative thinking is a journey that requires many changes along the way. Being aware of these four pillars can help companies hasten their progress and avoid roadblocks along the way to successful transformations.

Learn how to enable innovation skill-building at scale here or download our free ebook Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations.


Kickstart Innovation: A Guide for Organizations



Andrew Webster

VP of Transformation at ExperiencePoint. Andrew leverages over 15 years of experience designing and delivering working models, design sprints, change interventions and training programs to develop and apply user-centric problem solving approaches and solutions. Andrew has worked with global organizations including Walmart, GE, Johnson & Johnson, Coca-Cola, Deloitte, MetLife and Microsoft. He has also taught executives at leading universities, including Harvard Business School and IMD.


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