Why We Need to Stop Thinking About Innovation As A Tech Problem

Innovation is a sociological problem, not a technology challenge.

Pete Newell

February 5, 2021

One of the most effective ways intrapreneurs in established companies, government agencies and other big organizations can drive change is to abandon the idea that innovation is inextricably linked to creating never-before-seen technology. 

And yet, that’s easier said than done. 


In our work at BMNT, we’ve found time and again that what keeps people from creating workable solutions to tough problems is a failure to see and understand the actual problem. Big organizations spend years investing in and creating a constant generation of new ideas, people, technologies and operating concepts but fail to make progress solving critical challenges.


That’s because there's a tendency to think, “This problem exists because there is not an existing technology to fix it, therefore we must develop new technology.” 

But in reality, innovation is a sociological problem, not a technology challenge. We have all the tech in the world, but what we don’t have, sometimes, is the ability to say, "Your system is getting in the way.” 

So we think about how to work within these established systems instead of taking the risk of breaking them down when they aren’t working, and have a tendency to confuse the activities that lead to innovation with innovation itself.


I had the chance recently to discuss this phenomenon, and how it affects big organizations’ ability to stay competitive and drive growth on a recent episode of The Melting Pot podcast with Dominic Monkhouse. 

For more, including steps intrapreneurs can take to avoid falling victim to innovation theater, listen to our full conversation here or skip to the time stamps below


6:25: When the problem is that we don’t understand the problem

16:55: These academic courses are changing how real-world problems are solved all over the world

29:45: Innovation as a practice, not theater

37:55: How cultural change can help drive innovation

43:50: This is what happens when a big company tries to innovate by doing more of the same old things

47:22: The frozen middle may be hindering your organization’s ability to make change. Here’s how to thaw it

59:49: Why your innovation operating system needs to be guided by an innovation doctrine

Photo credit: Boegh/Flickr

Other posts