Why Some Innovations Never See the Light of Day

Last Updated Dec 10, 2009 5:59 PM EST

We recently looked at how VC firms can be a lot like high school cliques. Now the Knowledge@Wharton web site is continuing this business-as-high school analogy in the opening paragraph of the recent article "Popularity Contests: Why a Company Embraces One Innovative Idea but Shuns Another":
"Like the adolescent years we all remember, a multinational [corporation] gets just as caught up with popularity contests and in-crowds as teenagers, especially when it comes to sharing ideas and best practices within their own organizations."
The article explores why multinational corporations (MNCs), which have global knowledge at their disposal, often fail to fully leverage it when seeking innovations. Among the ideas proposed in the article:
  • 1. Managers can't get over dissonance: According to Felipe Monteiro, a Wharton professor of management whose research provided the basis for the article, "You're more likely to act on opportunities that confirm what you're doing rather than opportunities that challenge what you're doing."
  • 2. Companies want a proven track record: Brand new ideas are less likely to succeed because managers often want to see less original ideas that have already been successfully implemented elsewhere.
  • 3. New ideas aren't positioned well: Monteiro stresses the importance for external idea scouts, such as the ones employed by Procter & Gamble's Connect + Develop program, to "translate the external technology into the MNC's internal language and match the external opportunity to specific areas, all [increasing] the odds of successful initiation."
  • 4. Parts of the company are left out of the knowledge-sharing process: Here's where that popularity contest idea really comes into play. Underperforming subsidiaries are often not consulted when MNCs seek new idea.
I found this article to be an interesting contrast to the recent Harvard Business piece "The Innovator's DNA." It serves as a reminder that no matter how great the innovation, you still need supporters to help you bring it forward.

Image courtesy of Flickr user striatic, CC 2.0

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.