“The problem is never how to get new, innovative thoughts into your mind, but how to get the old ones out.” — Dee Hock
Liberal vs. conservative, PC vs. Mac, Chevy vs. Ford. Seems there’s always two points of view, two approaches, two views. Or there’s a continuum. What about “innovation”? What are the opposing approaches to innovation?
For companies, it’s all about competing. It’s all about competing. Just starting out? How do you get a foothold? In the middle of the pack? How can you get to the front? Are you the leader? How do you stay there? The answer is and will always be — innovate!
Of course, maintain and grow your current business. Of course, serve your customers better. But does this just involve doing things smarter, better, faster? Or do you need to adapt and change? Do you need to constantly rethink products, services and perhaps most of all, processes? How do you get the new, innovative thoughts into your mind and the old ones out?
It does seem that many companies talk about “innovation.” It does seem that many companies even give it a go. It also seems that most companies are fundamentally bad at it. From the outside in, it seems that there is an upside down understanding of “innovation.” When you really look at some companies’ efforts, it’s almost as if they went about trying to ensure innovation doesn’t happen. It’s almost as if they’re following in lockstep my tongue-in-cheek guide below.
So, if you want a guide on “How NOT To Innovate”, try this approach:
Don’t Rock the Boat
- Have a detailed plan that maps out all the steps over the next year or two; realize that — creating new products, developing new processes — innovation — your thoughtful smart people can figure much of this out beforehand, then it’s just a matter of following the recipe
- Make sure your company knows precisely how it has always made money and that everyone just tries to do that faster, better and smarter
- If you’re an industry leader, innovation is risky so do it “safely”, sit on your lead a bit
- If you’re in the middle of the pack, keep plugging away; soon, with incremental gains you’ll have made headway
- Put in place a deliberate, public, “innovation” process, stepped and managed; that way, no one will submit foolish ideas or waste people’s time with frivolous and fruitless investment
- Manage by committee, make slow deliberate decisions, make sure everyone knows to get approval for each stage of invention
- Ensure all new ideas are very “smart”; when someone creates a “far out” idea, scrutinize it publicly so everyone knows what’s creatively de rigueur
- Ensure politics are in place around who the “idea” people are, know your place
- Discourage desires for new, cool things by subtly labeling them “a bit out there”
- Make sure people who roll out new ideas feel most comfortable when they’re sure it will have support from everyone
- Don’t tolerate ambiguity, make sure you’ve got it pretty much figured out before you proceed
Make Safe Bets
- Create a culture of “Be careful, try things yes, but have a plan, don’t let it interfere with the business, get approval so no one can say you were wasting time or money”
- Ensure that risk minimization is top of mind
- Keep your tries to a minimum, don’t “blow” time and expense on trying too many things; again, we’re here to make money, not to feed the creative (but expensive) itch
- Only reward the successes, and remember, determining “success” takes a while
- Create a culture of discouraging “mistakes” or “wasted effort”
- Don’t invest in efforts where the ROI isn’t clear from the get-go
- Reinforce cultural mores that reward conventional success and discourage risk taking
Engineer Talent Carefully
- Hire from a recipe, here’s the list of skills and the personality profile, go find them
- Make sure there’s a need and position that matches each new hire
- Avoid “opportunity” hires (see ‘Make Safe Bets’)
- Promote those who follow the convention, who get along, who don’t create waves
- Address employee attrition by rewarding those who maintain the status quo the best
- Ensure political correctness is a criteria for suggesting innovation
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Jeff Rubingh is a technology innovation expert, consultant and analyst. Focused on the intersection between technology and business, Jeff helps clients identify ground-breaking solutions that maximize ROI across existing and emerging technology disciplines.