Innovation is mostly synonymous with technological progress and economic success, especially in France. In the US for example, failure is often a prerequisite of innovation, and you cannot achieve success if you never failed (and it is not a problem).
When we know that only one out of five projects ever initiated is viable, we understand the reluctance of many firms to innovate. It would make it easier for everyone if a single and simple recipe for successful innovation existed. However, if such a precise prescription still doesn’t exist, some studies try to extract which factors play a key role in success and in failure innovation.
This question is not a new issue, as the economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) already had in mind the importance of the innovation process in the economy. Can we find common trends from a number of experiences about the success scheme of innovation?
It seems that a successful innovation does not rely on merely a few elements, but is on the contrary the result of several gathered characteristics. If it is relatively easy to agree on the main success factors (degree to which the product is unique and superior compared to existing alternatives, innovator’s knowledge of the market and feeling of future market developments, firm’s overall technological and manufacturing resources, etc.), there are some disagreements about others which cannot be assessed clearly as success or failure factors.
Even if the literature about this field is abundant, the difficulty to find a clear consent is explained by the variability of samples (different technical fields, different types of firms) as for as the variability of methods used to investigate the process (qualitative versus quantitative). Besides, studies can be made complicated by personal motives, and a bias can appear due to the tendency not to assume one’s responsibility in a project’s failure.
However, it seems that we can draw four major headings related to product’s viability:
- Firm-related factors: firm culture, experience with innovation, characteristics of the R&D team, firm’s strategy towards innovation;
- Project-related factors: complementarity with the firm’s resources, management style;
- Product-related factors: relative price and quality;
- Market-related factors: concentration of targeted market and timing of market introduction.
On the contrary, the elements presented below lack consensus in the literature about whether they have a positive or a negative impact on a project:
- Firm-related factors: organisational structure and R&D intensity;
- Project-related factor: top management support;
- Product-related factors: degree to which the product is really innovative and technologically advanced;
- Market-related factors: firm marketing capabilities and its competitive strength.
To make matters worse, a distinction has to be done between “easy” (incremental) and “heavy” (changing strategic directions) innovations, as the factors described above do not have the same impact on the different kind of innovations.
In conclusion, even if this information still requires further completion, they are extremely useful for the enterprises, which need to know where they are situated compared to the risk involved and if they possess all key skills required to succeed.
If it is a relevant question for most of the enterprises, maybe it was not worth it for some products, which flop was a foregone conclusion (the walking toaster, a leather fragrance perfume, disposable underwear, etc.).
Some of these eccentric objects can be now found in the Museum of Failure Innovation, which just opened on the 7th of June, 2017 in Helsingborg (Sweden).
Mélissa, Consultant, Leyton France
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