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How protocol, bureaucracy and turf wars block innovation

Innovation, if it includes a change in the status quo, is commonly perceived as a threat. People and organizations resist change and can call on their corporate antibodies to both slow and block innovation. All that is further compounded by turf considerations that tend to align supporters and detra

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
2 min read
turf wars block innovation

Innovation, if it includes a change in the status quo, is commonly perceived as a threat. People and organizations resist change and can call on their corporate antibodies to both slow and block innovation.

All that is further compounded by turf considerations that tend to align supporters and detractors on either side of the issue, depending on the perception of who gains or loses if the innovation is adopted.

Recognizing an organization’s tendency to resist innovation is the first step toward changing the culture.

Phil McKinney

Protocol poses passive resistance to innovation

Organizations that are resistant to change reinforce and value the proprieties and formalities of their business processes. They may even have a complex protocol for recommending, evaluating, and implementing ideas. That protocol is often so intimidating and cumbersome that individuals don’t want to do the legwork that goes into submitting and innovation.

Likewise, busy managers often view innovation as violating some important protocol, or perhaps there is no existing protocol to evaluate and select an innovation.  We can view the latter as a headache and more work; the former — violating a long-standing protocol – is commonly used as the basis for shooting down an idea.

Bureaucracy places roadblocks to innovation

Good leaders of large organizations know the value of bureaucracy. It gets things done correctly and complies with the organization's leaders' protocol. Bureaucracy grinds out the “completed staff work” necessary for effective decision-making. Often, the bureaucracy decides for the leader, who merely signs off on the outcome.

However, innovation can often face an insurmountable obstacle when it comes to dealing with the organization’s bureaucracy. If the bureaucracy is the organization’s machine, then innovation can be viewed as either a lubricant or a monkey wrench.

As a lubricant, innovation can address the fundamental need of the organization to improve. Like a monkey wrench, however, if the innovation involves something that upsets the status quo, the bureaucracy will be resistant to the idea. The process (and protocols) of management evaluation, committee review, final recommendations, etc., will thwart innovation through slow starvation and neglect.

Turf wars block innovation

Innovation that goes across organizational lines faces an especially stubborn obstacle. This is especially true if the innovation infringes on some prerogative, reduces control of the process, or causes more work. If innovation support works best along the path of least resistance, organizational turf barriers are effective deflectors.

So innovation can be threatening, and protocol, bureaucracy, and turf considerations can gang up to pose formidable resistance. Recognizing an organization’s built-in tendency to resist, rationalize and smother innovation is the first step of doing what is necessary to change the organizational culture.

For an organization to succeed, it must follow the 7 Immutable Laws of Innovation.

BlogCareerLeadershipblock innovationbureaucracycorporate antibodiescultureimplementing ideasInnovationinnovation roadblockspassive resistanceprotocolturf

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Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.

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