How CEOs Can Defy Innovation Inertia

Questions to Ask

To increase the power of your own organization’s innovation engine, here are some questions to ask:

    • How consistently do we communicate a compelling vision and commitment to enterprise-­wide innovation as the principal driver of customer and stakeholder value?
    • Which formal and informal cultural practices (including reward systems, policies and procedures) reinforce the “everyday behaviors” that are most important for transforming innovative ideas into focused action? Conversely, which of our formal and informal cultural practices could inadvertently reinforce inertia and inhibit innovative thinking and action?
    • To what extent does the frequency and quality of communication and collaboration enable us to quickly pick up on emerging opportunities and challenges in the business environment?
    • How can we better engage external stakeholders including customers, strategic alliance partners, outsource providers and suppliers so that they are jointly developing and executing innovative ideas with us?
    • When innovation stalls, what assumptions could we be making about the source of the inertia? Areas to explore include conflicting priorities, unresolved misunderstandings and clashes, lack of resources, and critical knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • While going through this assessment by yourself can provide you with new insights, discussing these questions with other stakeholders can yield surprising and valuable perspectives. For example, when we interviewed groups of employees across a company, the CEO learned that they weren’t inclined to act on ideas from innovation sessions because it would interfere with objectives on their performance reviews.

    Congruence is Critical

    Taking an active role in shaping and reinforcing enterprise-­wide innovation is more than ever a critical ingredient for how CEOs can consistently enable their companies to create new value, and gain and maintain competitive leadership in their markets.

    The key is to recognize how many ways top leadership commitment to innovation is conveyed and perceived, and to actively shape these forces so that all of the messages are congruent. Monitoring and adjusting messages and actions on a frequent basis is especially critical as business conditions rapidly change.

    When your organization and its stakeholders perceive that innovation is more than a program, defying innovation inertia is no longer an impossible dream and your company can soar to new heights of success.

    Pamela S. Harper is founding partner and CEO of Business Advancement Inc (BAI) (, a consultancy established in 1991 to help companies accelerate innovation. D. Scott Harper is a senior partner with BAI, and is experienced in moving products to market from concept generation through development and release.