Skip to content

Avoiding Innovation Traps

Recognizing Innovation Traps

In the competency trap, companies and individuals are likely to repeat what was done successfully in the past and overlook other valuable opportunities and tasks. This can lead to unhealthy developments such as over-investing in one’s strengths, inertia, rigid corporate cultures, sunk-cost bias, and toxic politics, for example.

Inc.’s article, “5 Innovation Traps to Avoid” examined several additional traps that tend to sabotage corporations and individuals alike, and that hinder innovation efforts:

  1. The performance trap. Companies inadvertently set the performance trap when things are going well but the firm isn’t bothering to commit time or resources into developing the next generation of innovative ideas. Because everything seems to be moving in a positive direction, leaders have a tendency to stay very much in the moment, and not be too concerned with the future. When demand shifts, the economy weakens, or when the company hits a rough patch, leaders who are caught in the performance trap are not in a position to be flexible and adapt, because there are no new ideas in the pipeline. 
  2. The commitment trap. The opposite of the performance trap is the commitment trap—that is, the company sinks a lot of resources into new ideas that just aren’t panning out. Rather than recognizing the mistake and changing course, leaders feel compelled to put more money into a sinking project with the hope that something will flourish.
  3. The business-model trap. This happens when a company ventures into a product or sector which may seem ripe, but the firm doesn’t readily possess the competencies or materials necessary to execute. While it may seem like a good idea to expand horizons and product lines, if a company is not equipped to take on the new task, then it can fall victim to the business-model trap.
  4. The deliberation trap. Companies embark on the endless journey when too much time is spent analyzing, discussing, researching, and testing a new idea—without real results. Teams spend so much time processing the idea that they never arrive at real results. No one, neither team members nor the leader, is prepared to risk taking that important first step of transforming the idea into a concrete innovation. 
  5. The short-term trap. Short-term wins are not substitutes for real long-term gains. Short-term wins usually stem from meeting traditional customer needs, and offering traditional or expected products and services. Short-term wins are usually rooted in past practices. When opportunities arise that could bring about long-term gains, companies focused on the short-term are often looking the other way.

As for ways to recognize and avoid these traps, experts point to having an ambidextrous business model. Ambidexterity in business is the ability to use multiple strategies simultaneously or sequentially to remain competitive in a changing business world. It’s often defined as a balance between exploration and exploitation, where organizations can use their existing strengths while also looking for new opportunities. For example, an organization might explore new ideas while also optimizing existing processes. However, some experts point out that a company can still fall victim to a competency trap if they rely too much on exploration or too much on exploitation. Finding a balanced approach, being open to change and getting out of your comfort zone, can help support a more ambidextrous business strategy.

Striving for Ambidexterity

In “Balancing Innovation with Ambidexterity,” All Things Innovation first delved into the ambidextrous approach. Innovators have long been tasked with being a flexible part of an ambidextrous team, as part of an organizational cog that can easily pivot and manage tasks on several levels. This ambidextrous approach entails focusing on the big picture for the company when needed, yet at the same time focusing on the small, incremental steps that often define and are necessary for entrepreneurship and innovation.

In All Things Innovation’s “Strengthening Innovation in a Dynamic Environment,” we looked at how companies strive to have the best of both worlds. Organizations today often face a conundrum in the current economic environment. On the one hand, there is a directive to cut costs and optimize operations. On the other hand, the rapid pace of change means that a company is expected to focus on innovation to thrive. One avenue is to balance ambidexterity, a business and innovation strategy that puts an emphasis on exploring new opportunities while exploiting existing ones. The need to develop ambidexterity is more urgent today, as companies face expanding into new markets, heightened competition and operating in diverse environments.

Focusing on Innovation Strengths

Avoiding innovation traps is crucial for companies striving to maintain a competitive edge and drive successful innovation. We asked ChatGPT for some key strategies to help companies avoid common innovation pitfalls:

  1. Set Clear Objectives and Metrics: Define clear, measurable goals for innovation projects. Establish key performance indicators to track progress and ensure that innovation efforts align with the overall business strategy. Regularly review these metrics to assess the impact and adjust the course as needed.
  2. Foster a Culture of Innovation: Encourage a company culture that supports creativity, risk-taking, and continuous learning. Promote open communication, collaboration, and the sharing of ideas across all levels of the organization. Reward innovative thinking and recognize contributions to foster an environment where employees feel empowered to innovate.
  3. Balance Exploration and Exploitation: Allocate resources to both exploratory innovation (developing new ideas and technologies) and exploitative innovation (improving existing products and processes). Striking a balance ensures that companies can capitalize on current strengths while exploring new opportunities.
  4. Customer-Centric Approach: Keep the customer at the center of innovation efforts. Regularly gather customer feedback, conduct market research, and use social media analytics to understand customer needs and preferences. This helps ensure that innovations are relevant and provide real value to customers.
  5. Avoid Over-Reliance on Technology: While technology is a critical enabler of innovation, it should not be the sole focus. Consider other aspects such as business models, customer experiences, and operational processes. Innovation often involves a combination of technological advancements and non-technological improvements.
  6. Diversify Innovation Teams: Assemble cross-functional teams with diverse backgrounds and perspectives to drive innovation. Diversity in teams can lead to more creative solutions and prevent group thinking, where teams might miss potential pitfalls or alternative approaches.
  7. Encourage Experimentation and Fail Fast: Promote a culture of experimentation where small-scale pilots and prototypes are used to test ideas quickly and cheaply. Adopt a “fail fast, learn fast” mentality, where failures are seen as valuable learning opportunities rather than setbacks.
  8. Monitor the Competitive Landscape: Keep an eye on competitors and industry trends to avoid being blindsided by disruptive innovations. Benchmarking against competitors can provide insights into potential gaps and opportunities.
  9. Invest in Continuous Learning and Development: Provide ongoing training and development opportunities for employees to stay updated on the latest trends, technologies, and best practices in innovation. Encourage a growth mindset and the continuous acquisition of new skills and knowledge.
  10. Manage Change Effectively: Innovation often involves significant change, which can be met with resistance. Develop a robust change management strategy to ensure smooth implementation of innovative ideas. Communicate the benefits of innovation clearly and involve employees in the process to gain their buy-in and support.
  11. Align Innovation with Business Strategy: Ensure that innovation initiatives are closely aligned with the company’s overall strategic objectives. This alignment helps prioritize innovation projects that have the potential to deliver the greatest impact and ensures that resources are allocated effectively.
  12. Be Mindful of Resource Allocation: Avoid spreading resources too thin across too many projects. Prioritize innovation initiatives based on their strategic importance and potential return on investment. Focus on a few high-impact projects rather than pursuing numerous low-impact ones.

Reinforcing A Culture of Innovation

By implementing these strategies, companies can navigate the complexities of innovation, avoid common traps, and create a sustainable framework for continuous improvement and growth. Recognizing the existence of these traps is key for organizational leaders, so that they can reinforce best practices.

As Inc. notes, “Entrepreneurial leaders should not ignore these traps—once they are triggered, they can lead the organization down a sinkhole. However, your challenge is to identify and disable the innovation traps that can prevent your idea from moving ahead.” In other words, don’t get Kodaked!

Video courtesy of The Innovation Show with Aidan McCullen


  • Matt Kramer

    Matthew Kramer is the Digital Editor for All Things Insights & All Things Innovation. He has over 20 years of experience working in publishing and media companies, on a variety of business-to-business publications, websites and trade shows.

    View all posts

Related Content

Crumpled paper on top of idea/innovation sketch pad with drawing of light bulb.

FEI 2024 Report: The Future of Innovation

A successful three-day event marked Front End of Innovation (FEI) 2024 in Boston, held June 10 to 12 at the Omni Hotel at the Seaport. A reenergized a…

Lifting a hand weight at the gym/fitness theme.
consumer insights

Harnessing the Power of Consumer Insights

Innovation doesn’t happen in a silo, and a great product or idea can only go so far on its own. Tapping into the pulse of your consumer is key to ta…

Man shouting into a large megaphone.

Leaning into Crisis Innovation

In times of crisis, conventional wisdom seems to indicate that companies tighten the reins on personnel and their budgets, and that innovation efforts…

A white empty picture frame leaning on a white brick wall.
innovation frameworks

Selecting an Innovation Framework

The science of innovation, especially as seen through frameworks, is an important aspect of the operational process. With innovation a sometimes spraw…

A variety of ingredients in spoons. Diversity.
innovation talent

Creating the Right Innovation Team

Innovation was often seen as the task of a lone inventor, but that mindset has changed over the years. Rather than the solitary genius approach to inn…

A bridge centered between two buildings.
generational gap

Bridging Generational Divides in Innovation

Some may call it the generational gap, whether it be in the workplace or the marketplace, but that gap also signals opportunity. The sheer diversity o…

Red warning light, signaling hazard.
innovation roadblocks

Moving Past Innovation Roadblocks

With the pace of change accelerating, fostering innovation in corporate enterprises can be a challenging task—a task that is very much dependent on…

Futuristic city at night with data points of light rising from the bottom.
data science

Mapping Out the Data-Innovation Journey

This year, in our latest Innovation Perspectives Report, the editors of All Things Innovation brought together a cross-section of innovation, insights…

Bulletin board with post it notes. One in center says Make Things Happen.
innovation team

Managing Productive Innovation

Conservatively, I estimate that I’ve attended 20,000-plus meetings throughout my career. I’ll admit, many of them should have been replaced with email…

A blueprint with a pencil and ruler.
innovation team

Innovation Principles, 7/7

Once adequate competency, support, and size of a new team are secured, clear direction based on a purposeful vision, alignment with a winning game pla…

coin operated binoculars and open blue sky
analytics for innovation

The Road to FEI24: Analytics for Innovation

Anu Sundaram, Vice President, Business Analytics, Rue Gilt Groupe, is planning an interactive analytics session for FEI 2024, taking place this June….

A smiling little robot

The Road to FEI24: Brunch with the Bots

Samantha Johnson, Founder & CEO at Tatum Robotics, will take part in FEI 2024 in several ways, including participating in the keynote sessions, “Bru…

explorer in a cave
agile innovation

Applying AI to Anthropological Research

Agile research and methodologies are of primary importance to the innovation discipline, as they promote a more versatile, rapid, adaptive approach to…

gross profit margin

Innovation Principles, 5/7

Gross Profit Margin and Net Present Value are two primary profitability indicators for evaluating an intended entrepreneurial offering. Even if suffic…


Gaining an Innovation Edge with Automation

With the focus on how artificial intelligence, as well as digital transformation efforts, can help streamline operations, it’s worth another look at…

innovation culture

Creating the Right Innovation Partnership

Corporations often face many challenges when it comes to developing innovation in a fast, evolving market. They can face barriers such as inertia, the…

innovation collaboration

Bringing Sales and Innovation Together

Just how can innovation and sales work together to find success? Too often, companies find themselves stuck in their respective departments and the si…

design thinking

Innovation Principles, 4/7

The front end of innovation is a distinctly iterative endeavor based on human-centered, design-thinking principles. It could be represented by a spira…

innovation leadership

Winning the Innovation Strategy Game

We know that having a creative mindset can fuel innovation, and that fostering a culture of innovation is also important to get the job done. Yet ther…

innovation talent

Taking Next Steps with Innovation Talent

As we head into the new year, taking the next steps with innovation talent remains an important question to explore. With the competitive landscape in…

PIE framework

PIE: Get Your Slice of Success

How can someone really stand out and succeed as a corporate innovator, get the most exciting projects, or secure a promotion? This is a question I enc…

disruptive technology

Shaping the Future with Disruptive Technology

As we head into 2024, innovation of all types, most especially in technology, will continue to disrupt, transform and impact our lives, from the workp…

innovation talent

Keeping Your Innovation Career Resilient

With the rise of technology, such as AI, impacting workers and workplaces, it’s safe to say the future of work is evolving—in innovation and in ma…

innovation frameworks

Innovation Principles, 3/7

The main premise behind an integrated end-to-end continuum of innovation and new product development is that a holistic understanding of sequential de…

external innovation

Embracing Open Innovation

Open innovation is a growing tactic for today’s globalized enterprises. Rather than focusing just on closed loop systems and internal sources, such…

consumer trends

Shaping the Next Generation of Innovation

Generation Z is in a unique position as they are often viewed as one of the first to be shaped and influenced by technology such as the Internet, soci…

design thinking

Innovation Principles, 2/7

Successful innovation endeavors are built on creative tension between key enabling entrepreneurial trade-offs associated with four must-have constitue…

innovation culture

Unlocking Business Growth Through Innovation

The business world is changing quickly for innovators and there is a growing and ever-present imperative to keep up. Business model transformations an…

innovation culture

Living in A Digital Transformation World

Digital transformation (DX) has been a hot topic in the innovation space for some time, but the term can be easily misunderstood as well. As we accele…

innovation frameworks

Innovation Principles, 1/7

Imagine a case where a company’s growth depends on an innovation involving complex cross-disciplinary technologies such as electro-mechanical hardwa…

innovation mindset

Sustaining the Self-Disruption Journey

The adage “disrupt or be disrupted” may not necessarily always mean the same thing to the same companies. Even the original architects of disrupti…

disruptive innovation

Playing the Game of Disruption

At FEI, Angelina Carvajal, Strategy & Innovation Partner, Sr. Dir. (Optum Advisory), UnitedHealth Group, had a chance to share her thoughts on disrupt…

innovation team

Creating the Happiness Mindset for Innovation

With 2023 often being labeled the year of uncertainty, it comes as no surprise that consumers, and the innovation community, has had its fair share of…

product development

Breaking Through Challenges to Problem Solve

While it’s important to learn from best practices from large and innovative enterprises, it’s also valuable to hear from the startup community. At…

external partnerships

Powering Innovation’s Long-Term Play

Ishan Jaithwa, Manager, New Growth Areas, Cummins Inc., sat down with All Things Innovation’s Seth Adler at our studio at the FEI conference. Jaithw…

design thinking

Design Thinking Faces the Pace of Change

Seth Adler of All Things Innovation recently caught up with Prapti Jha, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, at this year’s FEI co…

innovation culture

Opening the Doors of Innovation Perception

Seth Adler of All Things Innovation caught up with Cory Sorice, SVP and Chief Innovation Officer, Masonite International, during this year’s FEI con…

transformational innovation

Beyond Innovation Theater

At FEI, All Things Innovation conducted a special roundtable, bringing cross industry, cross disciplinarians together to talk about transformation and…


Supporting Data with Design Thinking

At FEI, All Things Innovation conducted a special roundtable, bringing cross industry, cross disciplinarians together to talk about transformation and…

transformational innovation

Achieving Transformational Innovation

At FEI, All Things Innovation conducted a special roundtable, bringing cross industry, cross disciplinarians together to talk about transformation and…

innovation culture

The Finance Factor in Innovation

The finance function in an organization often gets tabbed as a bottom line-oriented, conservative department that more often than not stifles innovati…

innovation culture

Setting the Strategic Direction

A chief strategy officer (CSO) is increasingly becoming a more relevant element to a research and development team in an organization. An innovation t…

business innovation

Managing the Marketing of Innovation

Even some of the best new innovations might fail if there’s no effective marketing behind the product or service. With an emphasis on cross-collabor…


Playing Moneyball for the Win

In the popular baseball movie “Moneyball,” the character Peter Brand (played by Jonah Hill) highlights the “epic failure” of MLB leadership in managin…

innovation mindset

Putting Together Your Innovation Team

As the community’s recent Innovation Spend & Trends Report indicated, innovation teams are not working in a bubble, or at least not as much as they…


Generating Innovation Through Ideation

Ideation is often confused with innovation, along with other related terms regarding the creative process, such as brainstorming or design thinking. W…


Managing Talent to Drive Innovation

With the economy producing mixed signals, and companies often in a state of flux, managing innovation talent has never been a more challenging and imp…


Balancing Innovation with Ambidexterity

Innovators have long been tasked with being a flexible part of an ambidextrous team, as part of an organizational cog that can easily pivot and manage…

sustainable technology

Defining Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation is often a phrase used to make a splash in the business world. Some may debate that the label has been applied carelessly at tim…

sustaining innovation

Growing a Culture for Business Innovation

Whether it entails a large jump or a small step, the innovation pipeline for a business keeps it moving forward through a competitive landscape. Busin…

gaining true value

Gaining True Value While Moving Forward

The All Things Innovation community came together in this Gathering on Innovation Strategy to drive immediate lessons learned through the first half o…

humanize data

Diving Into Humanity-Centric Innovation

With the continued emergence and evolving development of artificial intelligence, there rises a question of how humans and AI can work together more e…

innovation team

Tapping Into the Innovation Talent Pipeline

In the last few years, the pandemic and a range of other economic factors have influenced the talent recruitment, development and retention practices…

human resources

Ignite a Culture of Innovation

From the successes to the failures, from the breakthroughs to the breaking points, the innovation community knows all too well that fostering a cultur…

innovation strategy

Innovation During A Downturn

Whether you believe the USA is headed toward or already in a recession, there are signs of a slowing or reversal of economic activity. Of the 15 metri…

successful innovation

Striving for Successful Innovation

In the quest for innovation, there is often a fine line between success and failure. The road to success is not always clear, easy or convenient. Howe…


Innovation Diversity

Black, Indigenous and People of Color have always been leaders in innovation and it’s time for us to put that at the forefront. DEI, or Diversity Eq…

human resources

Fostering Innovation

When you start to talk that way and lead that way, people do feel more psychologically safe to support change and support innovation that’s happenin…

innovation leadership

Breakthrough Innovation

While the rest of the industry relies on iterative change, Alex Moyes explains the breakthrough innovation happening at Dominion Energy. “So Dominio…

innovation culture

Innovation Reality

When working remotely, the main challenge is bringing people into an office when they live across the country or around the world. The AES Corporation…

innovation leadership

Control The Sails

Although the world was affected heavily with change in the last few years, not much in the business world has changed as far as topics and issues go….

innovation talent

Innovation Culture

Innovation starts with the employees of an organization. As we know, the people that work for a business are some of its greatest assets. In today’s…


Interaction Innovation

We are at a time in history of incredible change and technological innovations, such as the rise of machine intelligence, and companies who keep doing…


Humanity-Centric Innovation

Humanity-centric innovation is the idea of solving the biggest problems facing humanity in an economically viable way. Pete Dulcamara, Chief Scientist…

data and analytics

Measurable Innovation

Each company has their own KPIs that are important to their specific business in place to progress and be successful. Are people at the forefront of i…

innovation talent

Certain Uncertainty

Life is uncertain in every way. It’s always interesting to meet new people and try new things. On the other hand, attackers may sometimes appear out o…


Rolling Innovation

If you’ve done it once, you can do it again. Make sure to keep doing it, it’s rolling innovation. Amber Case sits down with us to discuss how impo…

advancing innovation

Strategic Innovation

Any new concept or technological advancement will continue to change and advance. Landlines were commonplace before smartphones. Remember those? What…


Innovation Intelligence

It seems that innovation is one of the biggest buzzwords in business now. To sustain growth and be competitive in the marketplace, companies in every…

constant change

Innovation As Constant Change

The key strategy to a successful business is to know when they are being innovative or are just transforming their status quo according to market tren…