The innovation vision: Why so many innovation initiatives fail and how to do it better

By Gaia and Andrew Grant

Adapted excerpt from The Innovation Race book, originally published in a similar format as an article online by Human Resources Media

Why do some innovation initiatives fail while others succeed? What is the secret ingredient that can make the difference between being relegated to the waste pile of great-ideas-that-didn’t-quite-make-it, or leaping onto the winner’s podium?

There can be a number of different factors that might mean a good idea doesn’t make it through, including anything from insufficient resources through to a lack of commitment to implementation. But a key underlying factor can come from not having considered the purpose behind the innovation. This can be a critical success factor that few people or organisations consider.

Think about it: Once you know why you are doing something and you believe in, then there is often a greater commitment to the follow through. There will be more of a tenacious determination to see an idea through to completion, no matter what the potential challenges.

Yet few organisations seem to spend time identifying and drawing on this concept of purpose for innovation.

Milennials need more

A recent Deloitte survey of millennials has found that the most motivating factor in their work is not money – it’s whether they can identify a sense of purpose in what they do. In fact 88% of 18- to 34-year-olds ranked ‘purpose’ as the number one factor they valued in a job, well above other factors.

This can be true in most areas of work, but it’s particularly true for innovation. Coming up with and introducing something new takes a lot of motivation and energy, but people who strongly believe in something will go the extra mile to make sure it gets done.

As Mark Bresnahan, the young Product Manager at design and manufacturing firm Fourstar Connections has said, ‘My generation feels a responsibility to create an environment where people and businesses are a force for positive change .’

And this does not just apply to millennials, this commitment can be found at all levels of the organisation. The CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff has made a commitment to purpose. ‘Businesses are the greatest platforms for change’, he has said, ‘and can have an enormous impact on improving the state of the world.’ It may be no accident that Salesforce comes second in Forbes ‘World’s Most Innovative Companies’ list!

Purpose-driven innovation

We have had the privilege of working with a number of companies that have been aiming to bring this sense of purpose back into the ways they innovate. On the other side, we have also been disturbed by our encounters with organisations that clearly fail to think through the implications of their innovations. We have seen how this difference can impact employee morale and their commitment to the innovation, and how this ultimately impacts the success of the innovation initiative.

So how do you start to build a culture for purpose-driven and sustainable innovation?


The organisation VMV (vision, mission and values) – and check that there is buy-in


How a new innovation initiative fits in with the VMV, and set clear innovation goals

3   SHARE  

About the purpose behind the innovation – and the connection with the organization VMV

4   GAUGE  

Employee and stakeholder commitment to the VMV and to the specific innovation initiative – and discuss any concerns about commitment

5   ASSIST  

Employees with using the VMV to guide them in the innovation implementation


Employees through the potential challenges along the way

By starting with purpose as a foundation for the innovation plan, you’re bound to get much more engagement and commitment from your team, and innovation success might just be that little bit more achievable.


Gaia Grant and Andrew Grant are the authors of The Innovation Race: How to change a culture to change the game (Wiley August 2016) along with a number of other international bestselling books and resources. As the Directors of Tirian International Consultancy they help to create innovation cultures for a range of international organisations (from Fortune 500 companies through to NFPs). The Grants are top-ranking keynote speakers, and Gaia is an HD researcher and guest lecturer at Sydney University Business School. For more information see

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