Most companies say that they are investing in innovation.

They will showcase large initiatives for gaining ideas and suggestions from across the organisation.

They will point to their last brainstorming session and say how successful it was, how it produced hundreds of ideas (or at least post it notes).

And they will proudly announce to their shareholders:

Look at all the innovation we are doing!

There is however a problem with this.

None of this is actual innovation.

Having lots of ideas means nothing unless those ideas are executed.

And innovation needs to actually end up delivering value.

Many of these companies don’t understand why their innovation failure rates are so high. And in many cases, it is because while they may believe in their hearts that they are actually performing innovation, they are in fact is involved in Innovation Theatre.

What is innovation theatre?

Innovation theatre refers to any innovation work which is done to show people that innovation is happening, but which doesn’t result in a tangible outcome. This is one of the reasons why approximately 96% of innovation attempts fail.

innovation theatre

Unfortunately, many companies won’t even realise that they have this problem.

In some cases though, they are very aware of it, and consider the activity good for marketing and branding, even if they know it will not produce any results.

Here are some classic examples of Innovation Theatre:

  1. Idea challenges (which result in ideas which are never implemented): Many companies will run large-scale innovation challenges to collect thousands of ideas. However, while launching the initiative is what they invest in, they don’t dedicate time and resources to then review and prioritise all of the ideas generated. This builds frustration among all of the people who submitted ideas.
  2. Open innovation platforms (which collect ideas which are never reviewed): These companies take the above idea a step further and allow external people like customers to contribute ideas. Again, oftentimes these ideas are never reviewed and never had a chance of being implemented.
  3. Chief Innovation Officers (who are doing it on top of their other role): When given clear responsibilities, authority and resources, Chief Innovation Officers can be a catalyst to driving change within an organisation. However, often it is just a title given to someone without the required investment to do anything. Even worse, sometimes it is a role someone performs in addition to their existing role, which cannot lead to positive results.
  4. Putting in new technology (without a clear purpose): Just because something is newer doesn’t mean that it adds value. You can see this with companies who implement something but never actually get their people to use it for its full benefit. Think of a company that says they need to invest more in social media, and then just set up a twitter account but never use it.
  5. Innovation Labs (which don’t scale innovations into the core business): Innovation labs can work fantastically well, and be a public face of innovation within a company. But they also need to ensure that a proportion of their projects end up impacting the core business. The danger is that by dedicating spaces and teams to design big new ideas, some companies separate them from the business they are trying to change, making it harder to integrate their innovations once they have been developed.
  6. Hackathons (which don’t relate to actual business challenges): Some companies will call a meeting to discuss a topic and call it a hackathon. Extra credit if there was alcohol involved, because that’s what they saw facebook do in the “Social Network” movie.
  7. Just using “innovation” to describe anything (even if it is business as usual): It’s a sad truth that many companies claim that they have a multitude of innovation projects in their portfolio. But when you assess those projects, they are not innovative at all. Projects related to maintenance and system upgrades often fall into this category.
  8. They are spending time, money and focus “doing cool stuff” (without having checked if there is even a need for it): For an innovation to be successful, it needs feasibility, viability and desirability. So many startups fail because they build a solution without figuring out if there is a problem it solves.

If you want to ensure that your innovation projects deliver results, then take a long hard look at your current activity and see if it fails any of the above tests.

Then use any one of the most important innovation frameworks and methodologies, and see you success rate skyrocket.

Have you ever seen a bad example of Innovation Theatre? Let me know in the comments below.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.