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Innovation Blockers: How to develop innovation skills

by Aaron Slater, on 8 Dec 2020 4 min read

Innovation skills

We’ve brought back our innovation experts to delve deeper still into a major innovation blocker – a lack of specific skills within organisations attempting to innovate. 

In our second Innovation Blockers report, we explored five different barriers to innovation that organisations may face. One such barrier was a lack of innovation skills. Here, some of these specialists delve deeper still into what innovation skills are, where and why organisations are lacking in such skills, and how to overcome this problem. 

Read our second Innovation Blockers Report in full here

What are innovation skills?

Defining “innovation skills” can be a challenge. As our report contributors discuss there is a vast range of skills that could be considered beneficial to the innovation process and - as Tim Stiven explains -  these include both hard and soft skills. 

The biggest hard skill needed for innovation, in his mind, is problem definition and analysis. This encompasses the ability to define a problem and understand how to tackle it in the best possible way to overcome something that is often complex, dynamic and uncertain. 

However, alongside this hard skill, Tim believes that innovation also requires some important soft skills: creativity, collaboration and the ability to encourage diverse thinking, among others. 

Click here to download our second Innovation Blockers Report

For Arend Welmers, some innovation skills are “altogether uncommon disciplines available to organisations from within”. Amongst such skills, he includes complex problem-solving, ideation strategies, systems-thinking and analytical thinking - skills that can be found across all teams within a business, not just amongst those who are often deemed traditionally responsible for innovation. 

Where and why are organisations lacking in innovation skills?

Cris Beswick believes organisations are lacking innovation skills at two different levels.

At leadership level

Back in 2017, a survey from PA Consulting revealed that 39% of executives believed they had defined the skills that they needed to be able to innovate. At the time, 28% believed their organisation was innovating successfully, yet 66% believed that innovation was crucial to their survival. 

With this in mind, it could be expected that, moving forwards, business leaders would increase their focus not only on their organisation’s innovation levels, but on their own skill sets in order to drive innovation forwards. 

In 2018, the FSB published Spotlight on Innovation: How Government can unlock small business productivity. In their research, the FSB sought to identify why innovators innovate - and just 12% of respondents gave “to improve leadership/management capability and capacity in my business” as an answer.

Skip forward to 2019, and it appears that still nothing had changed. Research from McKinsey showed that most executives were disappointed in their ability to stimulate innovation, with 65% saying they were “somewhat”, “a little” or “not at all” confident in the decisions they make in this area.  

At employee level

PA Consulting’s 2017 global innovation survey may have shown that leaders think innovation is vital - but it also revealed issues with recruiting those with innovative minds. Their research found that 21% struggle to recruit the innovative people they need for business success, while 38% who do hire the right people find it difficult to keep them. 

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In Moorhouse’s Barometer on Change 2018-19, they revealed that 62% of organisations think that new skills are the most important factor that organisations need to develop over the next three years - highlighting the importance of recruiting the right people with the right skill sets. And, in 2019, The Ayming Institute’s International Innovation Barometer 2020 found that 50% of business leaders believe availability of talent is the top influencer in where to carry out innovation, while 71% believe that access to talent is the biggest influence on research and development. 

But could things be changing for the better in this respect? PwC’s 2019 23rd CEO Survey seems to suggest so. Their own surveys show that 75% of UK CEOs believe their company’s upskilling programmes are effectively supporting innovation and accelerating digital transformation. Could this additional attention to skill-building see companies turn the corner when it comes to improving innovation skills overall? 

How to develop innovation skills

In our second Innovation Blockers report, our specialists offer plenty of insight into ways to develop innovation skills within an organisation - download the report here

Johannah Randall urges businesses to stop believing that an individual is simply “not creative” or “not an ideas person”. Instead, she says, the focus should be on creating the right environment for these skills to develop. 

Katherine Allen, meanwhile, believes that bringing in people from all across the organisation - opening and maintaining a dialogue between all departments - will help to improve business opportunities, increase buy-in and combat preconceptions. 

Bastiaan Saris, on the other hand, is confident that hiring the right people can make a difference. This isn’t, he says, about hiring people specifically to focus on innovation in lieu of others doing so - it’s about enabling existing employees to learn from others who have experience in this area.


While a lack of innovation skills has been identified as a key barrier to innovation, our experts have shown that there are plenty of ways in which this barrier can be broken down. From bringing in experts in the field to work with existing employees to a focus on creating the right environment, the key is to first identify the skills that are needed - and then to ensure you give employees the tools and the space to let them flourish. 

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Topics:Innovation Blockers