Close this search box.
Close this search box.

How CEOs Can Defy Innovation Inertia

CEOs play a pivotal role in leading their organizations to continuously innovate and generate a steady stream of new value. As part of this, one major challenge they face is balancing the many opposing forces, which can inadvertently result in a mysterious inertia that stalls these efforts.

Even when drawing upon best practices that can propel innovation, it’s easy to be unexpectedly blindsided by issues that seem to come out of nowhere. This is because innovation requires changing established practices and patterns of “business as usual.” Reinforcing new behaviors requires developing and reinforcing new beliefs.

For instance, at a recent conference, Campbell Soup Company CEO Denise Morrison stressed that company leaders need to approach innovation as “a focal point, not a hobby.” She went on to emphasize the importance of a multidisciplinary approach to evolving culture to foster and enable innovation, but acknowledged “culture is hard to do.”

Leading through the push and pull between new and old behaviors requires catching the many habits of thought and action at all levels of the organization that can send mixed messages about the company’s true commitment to innovation.

From Retreat to Office

Many companies prioritize innovation by scheduling special programs or events. For example, a company may hold an innovation retreat for its marketing and research and development functions to brainstorm ideas for new products and to foster cross-­functional innovation. In the sequestered environment of the retreat, participants generate new ideas and action steps. However, all too often gatherings like this do not address the bigger issue of what happens when participants return to the patterns and rhythms of “regular jobs.”

The consequence? Under the burden of returning to well-­worn work habits, the energy and commitment necessary to overcome inertia and realize the full value of the brainstorming session drains away. In fact, innovative ideas can be completely extinguished as focus turns back to business as usual, with serious business implications.

We once encountered a company where this pattern of inertia had led to an erosion of its competitive position as an innovation leader so that a second company that came along and developed an entirely new concept for addressing customer needs in the same market ultimately outpaced them.

At the first company, digging into the causes behind stalled innovation efforts revealed a number of issues, including performance review and compensation practices, that rewarded compartmentalized objectives over collaboration, disagreements over how the initiative should be pulled off, and a lack of clear metrics that allowed the organization to know whether they were succeeding.

The CEO and top executives of this company recognized that they needed to break habitual thinking that defined innovation as a separate, siloed program, so they began to unravel conflicting priorities and address the many ways that innovation was either fostered or neutralized on a daily basis. This realization allowed them to pull the company out of its inertia, take advantage of new opportunities, tackle challenges in new ways, and regain its position of what we call “innovation leadership.”


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.