Why most Nigerian companies pay lip service to “Innovation”

By Francis Ebuehi
Ever so often you hear CEOs of corporate bodies talk about how they are embracing innovation in their everyday operations but you as the customer, do not see the innovation in the rollout of new products or in the delivery of service. They talk of buzzwords like “disruptive innovation”,

Some believe that all you need to create a unit and have a unit head with the exotic title of “Innovation Manager” and then send some unwanted people from other departments to work with this unfortunate head of unit. After some months of unproductive efforts, the unit is scrapped and it is now blamed on the unsuitable environment or the lack of competent people to lead the effort.

Before I delve into the topic deeply, let us look at three definitions of Innovation.
⦁ “Innovation: a creation (a new device or process) resulting from study and experimentation; the creation of something in the mind; the act of starting something for the first time; introducing something new” – Wordnet

⦁ “The term innovation may refer to both radical and incremental changes to products, processes or services. The often unspoken goal of innovation is to solve a problem. Innovation is an important topic in the study of economics, business, technology, sociology, and engineering. Since innovation is also considered a major driver of the economy, the factors that lead to innovation are also considered to be critical to policy makers.” – Wikipedia

⦁ “Innovation is a process, involving multiple activities, performed by multiple actors from one or several organizations, during which new combinations of means and/or ends, which are new for a creating and/or adopting unit, are developed and/or produced and/or implemented and/or transferred to old and/or new – Joerg Gemuenden at ⦁ Innovation.cc

From these definitions, one can see that Innovation requires structure, resources, investments and patience.
Let’s now look at some reasons why some CEOs pay lip-service to Innovation in their companies.

⦁ Some CEOs do not truly understand anything about innovation apart from the 6 hour course they studied in some executive education programs. CEOs need to invest in knowing about innovation so that they can lead by example. If the CEO is not innovative in his thinking, he will not appreciate innovation.

⦁ No Budget for Innovation. Innovation requires financial resources to man the unit, train the staff and provide the necessary tools. Some CEOs think why would I invest in innovation when I cannot clearly see my return on investment?

⦁ Short term thinking. Some CEOs demand results within a few days after giving the go-ahead for setting up the innovation unit. They do not understand the process of innovation. There is truly a process which if circumvented, will produce sub-optimal products and services. “It takes too long”.

⦁ It is easier and cheaper to copy than to invest in innovation. “We do not really need innovation when we can copy easily.” Take a close look at the big companies in banking and the telecoms industries. Most claim they have a vibrant Innovation department. If this is so, why do you see a lot of products and services being copied among the companies? Some CEOs just believe in the mindset of waiting for the “fools” to invest in innovation and copy fast. Let them invest their resources.

⦁ Staffing of the innovation unit. Where companies truly committed to innovation put their bright and creative staff in the innovation unit, some companies staff the innovation unit or department with the misfits and unwanted derelicts. And they truly expect miracles!?

⦁ Top Management Buy-in. As with many initiatives, the innovation process and thinking requires top management buy-in; not only the CEO. Without this buy-in, there will be many clogs in the innovation wheel.
Innovation is truly required for companies to stand out in their industries and CEOs must understand that there is a structure and organisation that is required to make innovation effective in their organisations. They should know that if they do not embrace this kind of thinking, they will very soon, be extinct.


Francis Ebuehi is an innovation enthusiast that has traversed the telecoms, eCommerce and banking industries. He writes regularly on Innovation Village (http://www.innovation-village.com)


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