Some companies actively choose to defer innovation. They make across-the-board cuts when times (inevitably) get tougher. They cut today with the plan to invest tomorrow. Like deferment of payments of student loans or only paying the minimum payment on a credit card, it is an acceptable strategy if it is truly short-term in nature and if leadership truly has the discipline to get back to it. (It also assumes that those who can have the biggest impact on innovation did not leave during the cutting process.)

More subtly (but no less damaging than those that prolong active deferment), many organizations passively defer their innovations. They don’t consciously choose to not innovate, but their other actions constitute an actual deferment.

Some signs your organization may be passively deferring innovation:

Too busy with too many initiatives. This might look like innovation, but it is often a jumble of unrelated activities with few ideas implemented with meaningful effect. It might look like a fire, but it is all light and no heat.

Over-reliance on outside sources of innovation. If leaders can only point to adoption of software as examples of current innovation, then it is the software vendor that is innovating, not your company.

Major groups (like engineering and operations or sales and R&D) operating in silos with divergent incentive structures and motivations. Any organization has key groups that are “musts” to be working together. If these groups are not, then ideas that have real application will unlikely see the light of day or ever get executed.

Leaders’ evaluations not weighted for raising the bar. Without this, many leaders may choose to focus on managing the existing versus risking the new.

Most of the people in the organization do not think they have a role in innovation. This nips the creativity of people off right at the nub.

The primary innovation mechanism is limited to a committee or filtered through a suggestion box-like funnel. Innovation ideas (even really good ones) can be fragile. These should not be entrusted for evaluation by groups with limited bandwidth or skin in the game.

Every leader wants to win. Who doesn’t love that feeling of raising their game? So all leaders will want to be on guard for the possibility of passive deferment. It is one thing to make a choice to suspend improvements. It is another to just let those opportunities slip away.