Why So Many Innovative Ideas Fail In Research

Why do consumers in innovation research often lean towards ideas that don’t stray too far from the norm? And why do more disruptive, category challenging ideas often get rejected?

There are two key drivers of human nature that cause this phenomenon…


1. The Path Of Least Resistance

Park with a path. Another path has been created where poeple have taken a shortcut across the grass
Image source: Flikr

How often have you taken the short cut across the grass instead of following the official pathway? Why is this?

The University of London published a study1 showing that humans were designed to follow the path of least resistance. They gave an example of a task to pick the reddest, ripest looking apples from a tree. Some of the ripest apples were hanging high-up on the tree. Obviously, these require more effort to pick compared to the apples hanging on the lower branches.

They concluded that the brain will trick you in to believing that the lowest hanging fruit is the ripest. That is, the apples that require the least effort to obtain.

So, if we are inherently lazy, what does that actually mean when it comes to innovation research?

The more effort it takes to understand a new and different kind of idea, the more likely we are to think it is the wrong choice. Ideas that are further away from the norm, and are not evolutionary or incremental innovation, will tend to be rejected.


2. Dislike Of Change

Four bananas in a line. 1 is normal. 2 is a cucumber inside a banana skin. 3 is a banana in a cucumber peal. 4 is sweetcorn inside a banana peal
Image source: Shutterstock

In this test, ‘Option C’ is the most chosen even though you would be crunching on raw corn. It is just easier for the brain to accept.

The reason for this is that people often go straight to the option that feels and looks like the current thing they know. And without giving it much thought. This is because it’s human nature to not like change. 

We are hardwired in our genes to be afraid of change. It was originally designed to be a protection mechanism for survival in a dangerous world. There may no longer be lions trying to eat us; but our brains and our emotional-biological system still lives in the jungle.

Therefore, an unknown and changing environment triggers an emotional response indicating a potential threat to you and your life. On the other hand, certainty is interpreted as safe and guaranteeing a higher chance of survival.   

So, when it comes to innovation research, respondents need help. Help to think deeply about an innovation challenge, work through the consequences of their emotional thinking, and be inspired to see what could be. Otherwise, the default position will be to reject anything that strays too far from what they know.


To Sum Up

More disruptive or breakthrough innovation ideas are often eliminated too quickly in consumer research due to two inherent human characteristics:

  1. Being inherently lazy;
  2. Having a strong need to keep things as they are.

Thus, it is fundamental that you are using innovation research methodologies which have been designed to counteract these two saboteurs. Otherwise all your great category breaking ideas are doomed to end up in the bin.


  1. https://elifesciences.org/articles/18422


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