Why is innovating in large companies so challenging?

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve explored a number of frameworks for innovation on the blog including blue ocean strategy, design thinking and lean startup.

But despite having a number of frameworks at our disposal, innovation can be a challenging process. This is particularly the case in large companies where fear of failure, a risk adverse company culture, regulation and difficulty obtaining stakeholder buy-in can all act as barriers to innovation.

Many of these barriers are caused by a phenomenon called patterning. Patterning is a biochemical process that occurs in the brain and it’s the reason that when we’re presented with a new problem, we can find it difficult to come up with new and innovative ideas. Instead, we revert back to known solutions.

How does patterning work? When the brain is given a new challenge, it queues up all the known solutions in its memory that are associated with that challenge. The brain then shortcuts to the most simple or well-known solution.

Patterning occurs on an individual level, but it also works on an organisational level. We tend to see three different types of patterning, all of which can hamper innovation in large companies:

  • Rule-based patterning Every organisation has its own processes and rules which can influence the way staff approach challenges.
  • Cultural patterning The culture of a workplace can place limits on employees’ creativity and willingness to suggest more radical ideas.
  • Experience-based patterning The sum of an individual’s professional experiences to date can force them to think in particular ways.

So how can we overcome patterning? We employ a range of ideation techniques to encourage respondents to come up with big ideas and break patterning in the process. In our next blog post we’ll be exploring some of these ideation techniques in detail.

This blog post is part of series designed to equip insight professionals with the tools, frameworks and terminology to make their mark on the innovation process. Want to know more? Download our whitepaper on the subject here.