To have this post make the most sense, hopefully you’re familiar with Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm… if you’re not, here’s a resource from Ian Waring to get you familiar. I’ve found this cheat sheet super useful when articulating drivers behind strategy choices, adjustments and results.

Let’s start with a generic observation: many of the brightest people are wired to be perfectionists. For example, if you look at the training, the testing, the rigor of a field like engineering in an academic setting, it’s a discipline in which students are constantly bombarded with high standards, high precision and an expectation of perfection. What makes engineers change or choose something? Evidence, measurements and data. For many professional engineers, errors in practice can result in grievous harm to others. As such, avoiding mistakes is responsible and essential.

Here’s the challenge when it comes to engineering for innovation. Innovation requires risk taking and failure. It requires the willingness to identify unmet needs and try to iteratively address them – because if it was easy to solve the problem, it would already have been done. Furthermore, the most eager early adopters of your new solution will be ok with some trial and error, because the mindset of the early adopter is one of continuous improvement.

So, the paradox: Engineers (or other technical experts) have the depth of knowledge to create revolutionary new technologies, but may not always have the appetite to risk failure. The common solution to this problem is to put together cross-functional teams that include other functions like marketing, sales and user experts. When faced with complex technical discussions, marketers and other non-engineers are not always comfortable having conversations that would help parse the relevance of the risks – there’s a risk to humbly admitting that the technical elements are challenging and require further explanation. As a result, the cross-functional teams may not deliver on their promise.

Innovation and successful disruptive product introduction requires fast failure and iteration with users giving feedback. One test for YOUR organization, if you’re struggling with innovation is to look at the people on your teams. Are they all ALWAYS successful? Have any of them failed and learned from failing? If your team prides itself on being a group of consistently successful individuals, maybe it’s time to reassess your risk tolerance.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss some easily accessible ways for innovative organizations to overcome this tension. Make sure you follow the LIDOFY page on LinkedIn to get blog updates!

In the meantime, are you facing challenges that could use experienced outside perspective? Could you use an innovation coach who has experienced a wide variety of healthcare technology launches and creatively solved sticky problems? Let’s talk!