The Push Pull of Innovation

by Tamara Ghandour

Do you remember playing tug-of-war as a kid? It was a game of two teams holding on to either side of a rope, and each team had to try to pull the other over a line down the middle. When it comes to change and innovation, that’s exactly what happens individually, in our teams, and in our organizations – it’s a constant tug-of-war between the resistors and drivers of change.

On one side, you have the resistors of change, that hold change and innovation back. On the other side, there are the drivers of change, that push them forward. In almost every organization, there is a constant interaction (and conflict!) between the resistors and drivers of change, and that can become very frustrating.

Have you ever come across a situation at work, where you’re trying to push something forward, be innovative, and make change happen because you know it’s the right thing to do, but there is pushback and resistance at every turn? That’s exactly the tug-of-war game between the drivers and resistors of change and innovation.

If we don’t balance out this tug-of-war game to have more and stronger drivers than resistors, we will never get the change and innovation that we need to succeed in today’s dynamic and fast-paced marketplace. Unfortunately, when I go into organizations that are playing this tug-of-war game, I often find that there are more resistors than there are drivers, and that’s what holds them back from innovating and succeeding.

Innovation happens across an organization at three levels – individual, team, and organizational. Similarly, resistors and drivers of innovation occur at all three levels.

Resistors of Change Individual Level

Resistors at the individual level can be very personal. One of the biggest is fear – of putting yourself out there, of the unknown, of looking stupid, of failure. Fear of consequences also comes into play. We can be afraid to innovate when we fear the negative (sometimes imagined!) repercussions that may result because of our bold actions.

However, that’s not the only resistor at the individual level. There are others too, that are not as obvious. Comfort, for example. There is often a lot of comfort in doing things the way we have always done, even if they are not working. We tend to resist change and innovation, because we are familiar with the existing systems and processes, and that makes it comfortable for us to stay put.

Sometimes, I think success can be the greatest resistor of change. If what we’re doing right now is working well enough, why change? Why do anything different? Success can be a very powerful resistor because it allows us to talk ourselves back into maintaining the status quo which has worked in the past and is working well enough right now.

Team Level

At the team level, there are different resistors that come into play. A key resistor in teams is a lack of trust. Perhaps the team hasn’t quite gelled, and that lack of trust becomes an invisible barrier that holds them back from innovating.

Consensus can also be a resistor. If everybody on the team feels like they all have to be in agreement, or that everyone has to have a say in everything, that can hold your team back from proposing and implementing innovative ideas. It is often confused with collaboration, but can actually be a huge resistor of change.

The third major resistor happens when everybody in your team is in silos, or the teams themselves are in silos. Instead of collaborating and working together, everyone is working separately on their own projects. This can be a massive resistor to change and innovation because it leads to a lack of connection between people and teams working towards the same goal or objective.

Organizational Level

Looking at resistors at an organizational level, we can see that bureaucracy is often a killer of innovation. Processes also tend to slow everything down. I have worked with clients where they have certain processes that slow down change and innovation, and make you wonder why things have to be the way they are.

Hierarchy in organizations can also be a big resistor to change and innovation. If you only ever listen to ideas from people in leadership, and the people who actually interact with customers don’t get a say, you can very well get stuck and that becomes a resistor to innovation.

Some others at the organizational level include a lack of clarity, confusion in the goals or objectives or even the vision of the company, and being outcome-driven, which only focuses on success and failure rather than the process of innovation.

Across all three levels, individual, team and organizational, there are varying and different resistors to change. Closely evaluating these aspects can provide some interesting insights into how you’re operating, or why sometimes innovation and change can get stuck.

However, we never just have resistors in a company. Coming into play at the same time, and just as important, are the drivers of change.

Drivers of Change Individual Level

A critical driver of innovation here is an individual desire to perform at a higher level. This can be motivated by an inherent drive to do things differently, or even a need for recognition, but this drives people to put themselves out there. Another important driver is the willingness to be uncomfortable when you know or feel that it’s the right thing to do.

Team Level

In a team, real collaboration and everyone on the team knowing how to work together can drive innovation. These teams that drive innovation often have great trust within the team, and they also know how to maintain boundaries – they know what to work on and what to say no to. Having unified goals that make it clear to everyone where they are headed together is also a strong driver of change and innovation in teams.

Organizational Level

Looking at the big picture at the organizational level, something that drives innovation is having open channels for communication. When everyone has a say in innovation, rather than just adopting on the hierarchical view that it should be the work of a select few, the organization can become more innovative.

A clear vision and a culture of innovation that is behavior-driven, rather than outcome-focused can also be strong drivers of innovation. When a company focuses on the behaviors you need to push innovation forward, and not just the outcomes, everyone in the organization will be more likely to put out innovative ideas and start thinking about doing things differently.


At the end of the day, there are many factors externally in the marketplace and internally in our companies that are forcing the need for change. Whether it’s because the marketplace is changing, or because customer and employee expectations are shifting, or even because there are new competitors emerging – if you’re not changing, adapting and innovating to keep up with this dynamic landscape, you will get left behind.

Thankfully, change and innovation doesn’t come down to an either/or game. It is a constant tug-of-war between the resistors and drivers. The key here is to think deeply about the unique set of resistors and drivers that come into play within yourself, your team and your organization.

Then, ask yourself: how do I minimize the resistors and increase the drivers? Because ultimately, that is what will move innovation and change forward.

Image credit: Pixabay

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Tamara Ghandour of GoToLaunchStreet is a TED speaker and entrepreneur. From building and running multimillion dollar businesses, advising Fortune 500 like Disney, Procter and Gamble and RICOH on fostering innovative ideas and people. Tamara’s life is about breaking through the status quo for game-changing results, and that’s what her keynotes, online programs and assessments can do for you.


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