Innovation is key to success in business. But there are times when you should not innovate- when sticking to the status quo is the better option.
Adapted from Gijs van Wulfen's book, Inspiration For Innovation, here are 26 situations when you should not innovate:
1 You're convinced that your market won't change in five years.
The personal computer was "invented" in the early 1970s. However, until the late 1980s, it took them to become a common household item. If you had been trying to sell PCs in the mid-1980s, you would have likely failed miserably because the market wasn't ready for them yet.
Another example is the Segway. This product was very innovative and ahead of its time. However, it has failed to catch on with the general public. The market wasn't ready for such a radical change in transportation.
2 Your clients are even more conservative than you are.
This is a common situation for consultants. For example, you may have a great idea that you think your clients will love, but they are just not ready for it. In this case, it's best to stick to the status quo and save your innovative ideas for another time.
3 Your trusty old formulas will still generate great risk-free results in the coming years.
There's no need to fix what isn't broken. If your current product or service is still generating good results, there's no need to change it. So why take the risk of changing something that is already working well?
4 Brand and line extensions will bring you a lot of extra revenues and profits.
Sometimes, the best way to grow your business is simply by extending your existing product line. Line extensions are low-risk ways to generate new revenues and profits without innovating.
For example, Coca-Cola has been successful with line extensions such as Diet Coke, Coca-Cola Zero, and Cherry Coke. These are all variations of the original Coca-Cola formula that have become popular with consumers.
5 You don't have enough money and human resources to follow through.
Innovation takes time, money, and human resources. If you don't have enough of these resources, it's best not to try to innovate. You'll likely end up frustrated and disappointed with the results.
6 Your company is in a short-term crisis.
In times of crisis, it's best to stick to the status quo; this is not the time to take risks or try something new. Instead, it would be best if you focused on simply surviving the crisis.
For example, during the 2008 financial crisis, many companies cut back on innovation and R&D to save money.
During COVID-19, however, we've seen many companies innovate to survive. For example, restaurants have shifted to delivery and take-out options, while retailers have moved to online sales.
7 Your organisation is working at total capacity to meet the current colossal demand.
If you're already struggling to meet the demand for your existing product or service, it's not the time to try to innovate. Instead, it would be best if you focused on simply meeting the current demand.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many companies increased production to meet the sudden surge in demand.
You could outsource some work to another company such as Innovolo or hire more employees. Doing so would free up some capacity so that you could focus on innovation.
8 Everyone says: "Innovate!" but no one wants to be responsible.
Innovation is a team effort. Everyone needs to be on board and willing to take responsibility for the results. If no one wants to be held accountable, it's best not to try to innovate.
An example of this is the failed social media platform, Google+. It was launched with great fanfare in 2011 but shut down just eight years later.
Its failure was that no one wanted to take responsibility for it. There was no clear owner and no clear vision for what it was supposed to achieve. As a result, it quickly became a ghost town.
9 You're uncertain about what you're looking for.
It's essential to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve before you start innovating. Otherwise, you'll likely waste time and resources on something that doesn't meet your needs.
We see examples of this all the time, such as when a company develops a new product that no one wants to buy.
To avoid this, you need to have a clear idea of your goals and objectives before you start innovating. Otherwise, you'll just be wasting time and resources.
10 There's no real business need, and it's only something nice for the company.
A business need should always drive innovation. Otherwise, it's just a nice-to-have and is unlikely to be successful.
For example, many companies have tried to develop "me too" products or copycats of existing products. These products usually fail because there's no real need for them.
A real-life example of this is the Segway. It was developed as a means of transportation but failed because there was no real need. People already had cars, bikes, and other transportation options.
In contrast, the successful innovation of the Tesla Model S was driven by a genuine business need: to provide an environmentally friendly and sustainable option for luxury car buyers.
11 It's not the right time.
There's never a perfect time to innovate. However, some times are better than others. If you're uncertain about whether it's the right time, it's best to err on the side of caution and wait.
Many companies put off innovation during an economic downturn because they're worried about the risks. However, this is often the best time to innovate because you have more time and resources to focus on it.
12 You can't form a capable, harmonious team that is genuinely excited about innovation.
Innovation is a team effort. Everyone needs to be on the same page and working together harmoniously. If you can't form such a team, it's best to wait until you can.
When a company has too many cooks in the kitchen and no one can agree on anything, leading to stagnation and a lack of progress.
13 You're trying to solve the wrong problem.
Often, companies try to innovate but end up solving the wrong problem; this usually happens because they don't take the time to understand the real problem that needs to be solved.
As a result, they develop a solution that no one wants or needs. A real-life example of this is the Microsoft Kin, a phone designed to solve the problem of people not using phones enough.
However, the real problem was that people didn't want to use phones because they were too complicated. The solution, then, was to make them simpler, not to try to get people to use them more.
14 There's no support from the top.
Innovation requires buy-in from the top. Otherwise, it's likely to fail because innovation is risky and requires a lot of resources.
If the top brass isn't on board, they're unlikely to allocate the necessary resources. As a result, the innovation is likely to fizzle out before it even has a chance to start.
15 The people in your organisation are not (yet) ready to break their habits.
Innovation requires people to break their existing habits and learn new ones. If they're not ready or willing to do this, it's best to wait until they are. Otherwise, you'll waste time and resources on something no one will use.
An example of this is when Foursquare tried to get people to use their app by giving them rewards for checking in at different locations. However, most people weren't ready to change their habits and didn't see the need to use the app. As a result, it failed to gain traction and was eventually overshadowed by other apps like Yelp and Swarm.
16 You've already tried and failed.
If you've already tried to innovate and failed, it's best to wait until you've had time to regroup and learn from your mistakes.
Rushing into another innovation attempt is likely to lead to the same result.
The point here is to learn from your mistakes. If you don't learn from them, you're likely to make the same mistakes again.
17 People in your company are lazy, content to only copy from others.
If the people in your company are content to copy from others, they're not going to be the ones to innovate.
Innovation requires original thinking and a willingness to take risks. If the people in your company are unwilling to do either of these things, it's best to wait until you can find those who are.
We see this in how companies often copy each other's products and features instead of coming up with their own; this usually happens because the people in these companies are more concerned with short-term gains than long-term innovation.
18 Your organisation doesn't have any concrete vision about its future direction.
If your organisation doesn't have a concrete vision for its future, it will not be able to innovate.
Innovation requires a clear understanding of where you want to go and what you want to achieve. Without this, it's impossible to develop new products or services that meet your customers' needs.
Without vision, your team will disappear down many wormholes, wasting time and resources on things that don't matter.
19 Long-term planning means looking ahead just three months.
If your organisation only looks ahead three months, it's not going to be able to innovate. Innovation requires a long-term view; this means looking ahead at least five years and preferably longer.
Only by taking a long-term view can you develop products and services that meet your customers' needs in the future.
20 Everyone fears failure.
If everyone in your organisation fears failure, they're not willing to take risks necessary for innovation. However, innovation requires a willingness to fail. Without this, you'll never achieve anything new or different.
An example of this is when companies are afraid to experiment with new business models. They're so worried about failing that they never even try; this results in them being stuck in the same old way of doing things, even when it's no longer effective.
21 Everyone will attack and ridicule the newness of an idea.
Suppose everyone in your organisation is quick to attack and ridicule new ideas. In that case, they're not going to be open to innovation. Innovation requires an open mind. If people are closed-minded, they're not willing to consider new ideas, no matter how good they are.
An example of this is when Dyson tried to sell his cyclone vacuum cleaner. Vacuum cleaner manufacturers met him with scepticism and ridicule. They didn't believe that his product could work and mocked him for it.
It took years of hard work and perseverance. But, eventually, Dyson proved them wrong and changed the vacuum cleaner industry forever.
22 Stakeholders will block it at any time.
If important stakeholders are quick to block new ideas, they're not going to be open to innovation. Innovation requires buy-in from all levels of the organisation. Without this, it's impossible to make any progress.
23 Your latest innovations are already successful and still need further exploitation.
If your latest innovations are already successful, you don't need to innovate. Instead, you can continue to exploit them until they're no longer effective.
Only when your current products and services are no longer meeting your customers' needs should you start thinking about innovation.
24 The market is too small for your innovation.
If the market is too small for your innovation, it will not be successful. So it would be best to make sure that there's a demand for your product or service before you start investing in it.
You also need to ensure that your product or service can meet that demand. If the market is too small, you won't be able to sell enough of your product or service to make a profit.
25 You're too focused on the competition.
If you're too focused on the competition, you're not going to be able to innovate. Instead, you need to focus on your organisation and what you can do to improve.
By focusing on the competition, you're only going to copy their ideas and never develop anything new or different.
When H&M copied Zara's business model, they didn't innovate. Instead, they just copied what was already successful.
26 You have no idea what your core business is anymore.
If you have no idea what your core business is, you're not going to be able to innovate. You need to have a clear understanding of your organisation and what it does before you can start thinking about new ways to do things.
Only when you know what your core business is can you think about how you can improve it.