Innovation Barrier

/ˌɪn.əˈveɪ.ʃən ˈber.i.ɚ/

Innovation barriers are organization-specific obstacles that internal innovators or intrapreneurs will run into when trying to push their idea or venture to implementation or market. 

Innovation barriers take many forms. The main reason they exist is that organizations are geared towards efficiency in their core business (exploitation engine) and lack a second operating system for innovation (exploration engine). Once innovators try to experiment their way through the system logic of the exploitation engine, they will get measured and evaluated by its standards too. As these are not geared towards innovation and intrapreneurship they will stifle and destroy any attempt to push non-incremental or even breakthrough innovation through the organization. This is why we often hear: “Innovation? In our company that’s career suicide!”

Innovation barriers are manifold and can exist on different levels in the organization.
Innovation barriers are manifold and can exist on different levels in the organization.

Innovation barriers can be categorized into very general obstacles (which apply to all organizations and are a kind of hygiene factor you’ll have to meet to make any new thinking happen and into ones which are specific to certain methodologies like design thinking or Lean Startup . You can also find ‘good collections’ of innovation-related barriers in the form of visual card sets for workshops and strategy work here and here. If barriers are not removed in a top-down manner by leadership and through intentional innovation capability building, you’ll often find innovators working around them bottom-up by developing ‘cultural hacks’. Culture hacks are therefore good indicators of where your system stifles innovation.

Innovation programs and vehicles are often institutionalized answers to barriers specific to the organization. They are set up to remove or circumvent them, to make innovation processes run smoothly again, without the need for culture hacking.


O’Connor, G. C., & DeMartino, R. (2006). Organizing for Radical Innovation: An Exploratory Study of the Structural Aspects of RI Management Systems in Large Established Firms. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 23(6), 475–497. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5885.2006.00219.x
Carlgren, L., Elmquist, M., & Rauth, I. (2016). The Challenges of Using Design Thinking in Industry – Experiences from Five Large Firms. Creativity and Innovation Management, 25(3), 344–362. https://doi.org/10.1111/caim.12176
Assink, M. (2006). Inhibitors of Disruptive Innovation Capability: A Conceptual Model. European Journal of Innovation Management, 9, 215–233. https://doi.org/10.1108/14601060610663587