how do you kill innovation?

By Natalie Gordon

“Sshhh: don’t tell anyone…they might devise some counter strategies”

We were delighted to host a workshop and join a huge celebration of innovation at the Unbound London event hosted at the Old Truman Brewery, Shoreditch on 18 and 19 July. It was billed as a global showcase bringing together more than 5,000 founders, entrepreneurs, investors, large corporates and small start-ups, all on a mission to share innovative ideas.

It was an inspiring, fun and engaging forum for Sean Connolly and Alex Graham to explore eight ways to kill innovation before it has a chance to get started. It was a schadenfreude moment as our audience came to life with an endless array of examples of how innovation and change is choked, blocked or diverted in their own organisations. There was a consistent pattern, indeed some told us that this was a strangely comforting and cathartic experience. “This is like therapy,” said one participant.

So, if you’d like to stop innovation before it gets going, here’s what you need to do:

  • Create a climate of fear: discourage open thinking and encourage risk aversion
  • Make the simple complex: create confusion and blindness through silos and be hazy about the problem you are trying to solve
  • Stay in the present: don’t ask ‘what could be’, but say, ‘this is how it is’
  • Ask for more data: demand rigorous analysis of all possible scenarios
  • Be unrealistic about resources: either throw too much at it or not enough
  • Create the illusion of innovation: hold ‘big bang’ events with experts or launch a ‘bright ideas’ programme and don’t follow up
  • Enforce established project management disciplines. “But project management is good,” we hear you cry. Yes, it is, but not when bureaucracy is valued higher than agility
  • Finally, publicly humiliate those with new ideas: create a sense of winners and losers amongst your informal network, naming and shaming “poor” ideas

That should do it.

Of course, you may like to find out how to do the opposite. Probably you’d like to learn how to get your organisation to embrace, absorb and adapt around new ideas. Most likely you’d like to know how to unlock the potential of your people, liberating them to create, collaborate and deliver. That will take us longer to explain, and in truth, it’s best to explore that in a conversation.

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