How To Avoid the Success Trap

Is innovation rocket science? Well, yes it could be…


As innovators we very rarely innovate the models we use for innovation planning. The reason is called the success trap – the ‘it was successful before, let’s eat, sleep, repeat…’ mentality.

This is of course complete nonsense. Remember the brands Nokia, Hoover, Kodak, to name a few? They fell into the success trap and started repeating instead of innovating. They didn’t listen to or hear their target audience. They stopped listening to the warning voices within their own organisations. Always listen carefully, especially to voices that are in the minority view, as you typically find the real nuggets there.

Below we’ll cover a couple of different approaches to innovation – stage-gate & funnels and rockets, two processes that support ongoing innovation and keep the success trap at bay.

Innovation processes: stage-gate and funnels vs rockets


Before we dive into specific pros and cons of different approaches, these are what I call the ‘foundations of innovation’ which are required whichever process you choose to innovate.

The foundations of innovation

1. A strategy for the organisation: without clear direction you will never arrive at your end goal, whatever process you decide upon

2. Good insight is key: you need clear articulation of customer needs – it doesn’t matter what system you use, rubbish in = rubbish out!

3. Supportive structure: provision of an internal structure that supports and nurtures the innovation process. Without proper ownership of innovation, you cannot expect results.

Ok, so now we have the foundations of innovation established, we need a process to manage it. Typically, there are three main ways in which innovation ‘happens’ in organisations…

How does innovation happen within a company?

1. The entrepreneurial leader: not every organisation has a Branson or a Jobs and these are rare within the FMCG sector whether a SME or a larger organisation, so let’s discount these for now

2. The process: funnels and stage gates, rockets, maps, etc

3. Open innovation: a discussion for another day!

So, let’s look at process. Here are two main approaches used along with some generalised pros and cons. A well-run process, whichever style it is, is the main aim!

Stage-gate & funnels

• Can be very bureaucratic and slow with an emphasis on repeating known successes

• Focused on filtering ideas, not creating great new ones. This can work if your idea bank is of high quality

• Kills ideas too quickly that are harder to achieve. For example, a new flavour variant is easy, but is that really innovation, or imitation?

• Can have far too many engaged stakeholders who are typically at a senior level and are risk averse about being associated with innovation projects, given the 80% failure rate in FMCG

• Expensive to run if too many are involved – keep your team tight

• People find ways to get projects through and are open to abuse by senior stakeholders. For example, if operations don’t want to do something they will cost it out. The idea dies, but was it a bad idea?

• Manage your timescales: if your idea takes too long to articulate it is at risk of erosion. Hurdles can dilute an idea to such an extent that the original concept is lost. This is one reason why so many fail!


• Evolution can be a powerful tool within organisations, making invention and change harder to implement successfully. The ‘rocket’ approach is not a panacea for failing systems, although typically used as such. However, without understanding root cause of failure, innovation will fail. The ‘rocket’ approach works best when its principles are applied to already established and robust systems.

• Starts with a vision. This is a definite benefit over funnels in my opinion (good funnels can do the same thing though!).

• Has two ideation expanding elements – this is really the important element as when done well you should have fewer, bigger, better projects – a target metric that any business should always look to continuously improve.

• Less tests more guts. The one piece of advice I would give is if you do establish a rocket system, make it entrepreneurial. Don’t use research as a crutch for taking decisions. Test it based on your instinctive insight and learn as it’s normally quicker and cheaper in the long run.

Good luck on whichever route you choose to employ. Just remember, the foundations need to be built before you buy the soft furnishings!

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