back to the Mansfield Buchanan website
Bringing Heart and Voice to Leadership success

Innovation 'gone wrong'!

Innovation 'gone wrong'!

A Case Study in how not to do it

Next week I have the great privilege of working with a team who are passionate about using innovation to deliver greater value to their organisational customers.

In the 3 years that I have worked with this team, I have seen how this commitment to relentlessly pursue innovation to transform the value they create has been key to their success in building a fully functioning, high performance Team (with a capital T).

But this article isn't a case study in their success: it is a case study in what happens when you lose sight of the reason why innovation matters.

Innovation 'gone wrong'.


In preparing to work with my lovely Team (capital T), I needed to purchase an uninspiring but essential item of stationery. As I needed the item quickly, I decided to venture into a well-known High Street store here in the UK rather than via our usual on-line channel.

Inevitably, I was in a hurry. Just as inevitably, there was a long line of customers waiting to pay.

So, I was just a little dismayed to find that the old-fashioned concept of paying for your items at a till (with a person behind it) had been replaced by shiny, new automated ‘scan and go’ machines that promised an end to those tiresome queues for their highly valued customers.

Chiding myself for defaulting to a negative reaction to a shiny, new innovation that was clearly being introduced for my benefit, I showed willing.

I gamely joined the queue of people waiting to embrace this new way of doing things and, keen to get ahead of the game by reading the strategically positioned instructions on how to use this new contraption, I squinted hard but the queue was long and my eye-sight too poor. I resigned myself instead to watching how other customers set about doing things.

Firstly, I realised that the length of the queue was being exacerbated by the fact that only one of the shiny, new gadgets was working.  The other had a decidedly old-fashioned ‘not in service’ notice ignominiously propped up on its scanner. Furthermore, the voice of the helpful human till-operative had been replaced by a monotone humanoid sound box with a very limited vocabulary that seemed to default to ‘sorry, please scan your item again.’

I quickly tired of this game. As the length of the queue was now such that it snaked up and down the adjacent aisles, my attention was drawn to something decidedly out of place: a human shop assistant.

Stacking shelves in one of the aisles.

In fact, there were two of them! Both stacking shelves.

And chatting…even occasionally glancing over to the string of increasingly irate customers many of whom were now dumping their goods and walking out.

Surely now, I thought, when they noticed that customers were leaving, they would come over to fire up one of the ‘old’ devices that were clearly still operational. Or, at the very least, offer to assist the hapless customers wrestling with the lone machine steadfastly rejecting any barcode that was being wanded too fast, too slow, too close, too far, the wrong way up…

Nope, nothing happened. Their chat continued as animated as before (I don’t know how Wayne was but his relationship with one of said assistants clearly wasn’t going anywhere …).












The task of stacking the shelves continued to prevail over helping the Customer wrestle with the innovative new gadgets that were there to make the whole customer experience better. ‘Very shortly…’, I thought maliciously, ‘…you won’t need to stack any shelves because you won’t have any customers.’

And that’s the point isn’t it?

Surely, innovation is only meaningful when it delivers better value to those we are striving to serve.

Innovation becomes a frustrating nonentity (or worse) unless care is taken to ensure that it does really deliver in practice the value enhancement that is promised.

End to end connection to value

My lovely Team (capital T) excel because they:

  • focus consistently on what their internal customers need and value – today and beyond

  • constantly scan the landscape for innovations that could help them meet those needs better

  • are not afraid to experiment, to try new things and learn

  • critically assess the tangible value-add relative to what matters to their customers.

They celebrate failure as a measure of their endeavours to find success. They focus on the people who matter, dumping those ideas that don’t deliver value until they find - and adopt - the really great innovations that change the way they do things.

But only for as long as it takes for the next great innovation to be identified and embraced.

Maybe this simple but highly effective formula could be helpful to a certain UK chain of stationers, the point being that innovation must add value if it is to be valued by those who come to use it.

And finally... 

I didn’t buy my items. I left the store on principle – outraged that stacking shelves took priority over serving customers.

However, I hope it has produced a great case study that helps any team committed to embracing innovation to remember that innovation is only ever of value if it delivers meaningful value-add to those who matter - be they internal customers, external customers or other key stakeholders in our success.


This article has been written by:

Annalise Cowley, Director of Mansfield Buchanan Ltd

An experienced Team Performance Consultant and Leadership Coach, Annalise works with clients all over the world to help Leaders and their teams to use insight into what people need and value to deliver the business results that matter.

We hope that you have loved reading this article and welcome any thoughts, questions or feedback. Please get in touch with Annalise directly via:


Phone: +44 7966 771054


MB Leadership is a division of Mansfield Buchanan Ltd.

Corby Enterprise Centre, Northamptonshire NN17 5EU

United Kingdom 

share this:

Latest Insights


Get our insights straight to your inbox.

+44 (0) 1536 560358
talent - opportunity - success