Conflicts are natural and they become nasty only when they are not anticipated. Running innovation programs is no different in setting stage for all forms of conflict among agents. My idea to list some of the stage settings and prepare as a facilitator and go with a plan to move action forward, rather than kill an idea with a potential but in conflict. The categorization is naive but I hope you get a drift of how the stage gets set in different forms.
- In larger enterprises key problem is detecting and selecting an innovator and a family of high impact ideas. The selection process if badly designed lead to sponsoring ideas that are not going increase firm’s competitiveness. This can set stage for considerable conflict and disengagement between selected and the left outs and may result in exits with key information or high potential ideas.
- While detection is not an issue in smaller enterprises, a high potential idea can be in direct conflict with ownership status and the desired direction of the sole owner or promoter. If the high potential idea is not sponsored directly or given independence internally, it leads to creation of a competitor in close vicinity with the ideas.
- Hiding white elephant projects (i.e. projects that hog both limelight and investments for a long time with some key sponsors but produces nothing more than slide decks and platitudes for the business) within large innovation programs are a common stage for conflict, and it drives away original innovators from signing up into the programs.
- Innovators are at odds with their immediate supervisors usually, leading to conflict within teams and disengagement from ideas. When innovation programs are envisioned/developed at top management level , it is not fair to expect the same level of understanding with managers running the program as concerns are at different levels. For the innovator working with such a manager there is conflict with what the top management spoke in a town hall meeting versus what happens on the ground. This conflict generally goes unresolved even when brought up in top management forums, usually results in less than anticipated participation for the entire innovation program.
Strategy / Process Conflicts
- A set strategy in place, inhibits experimentation that are directionally outside of it. This is against innovators who just like to play or experiment. If the experiment succeeds innovators typically want to build further. Specifically tackling organizational administrative systems to get approvals for strategically unaligned ideas is usually tougher. This will create a stage for conflict among weak or dated ideas that are sponsored versus newer or unproven ideas that are left out. Seeking investment versus running stealth is a choice, until capital needs remain small and avoiding conflicts with processes. Beyond a threshold the need to go through the cumbersome budget and approval process or finding a sponsor, leads to other conflicts.