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9 Anti-rules of Innovation

Posted 4 years ago

Innovation shouldn’t be a battle, but it often feels like it when you’re trying to get everyone on board.

When preparing workshop material for the Queensland Government, we came across Ros Kanter’s article in the Harvard Business Review titled ‘Nine Rules for Stifling Innovation’. It’s a great blueprint for how to ‘stuff-up’ innovation in the workplace, like:

1. Be suspicious of any new idea from below…because it’s new and because it’s from below. And scoff. After all, if the idea were any good, those at the top would have thought of it already.

2. Invoke history. When a new idea emerges, find a precedent in an earlier idea that didn’t work and remind everyone of that bad past experience. New ideas often come with new people who don’t know the lay of the land, so it’s best to defer to those who have been around a long time and know that it was tried before, so it won’t work this time either.

3. Keep people really busy. If people are coming up with new ideas they must have too much free time, so load them with more work; then they won’t have the time, energy or head space to come up with new ideas.

4. Encourage cut-throat competition. In the name of excellence, ask groups to critique and challenge each other’s ideas, preferably in public, and then declare winners and losers.

5. Stress predictability above all. Count everything that can be counted, as often as possible. Sweep any surplus funds into master accounts. Eliminate any slack. Favour exact plans and guarantees of success. Don’t credit people with exceeding their targets because that would just undermine planning. Insist that all procedures must be followed. That way there’s no deviation and therefore likelihood of stumbling upon a distracting new idea.

6. Confine discussion of strategies and plans to a small circle of trusted advisors. Announce big decisions in full-blown form, ready to roll. They won’t have a chance to challenge the strategy’s content before having to implement it. No one will start anything new either, because they’ll never know what new orders will be coming down from the top.

7. Act as though punishing failure motivates success. Practise public humiliation, making object lessons out of those who fail. Particularly address failure of new ides if they have somehow snuck in. Everyone will know that risk-taking is bad.

8. Blame problems on the incompetent people below … their weak skills and poor work ethic. Complain frequently about the low quality of the talent pool today. If that doesn’t undermine self-confidence, at least it will undermine faith in anyone else’s ideas.

9. Be arrogant. Above all, never forget those at the top already know everything there is to know about this business.

Workshop participants respond with anything from nervous chuckles to raucous laughter, and the occasional frown – usually from someone ‘at the top’ who can’t see what’s so funny.

Here’s a link to the article.

If you’d like to learn how to break these anti-rules, contact us about innovation workshops for your team.

– Brian Ruddle, Managing Director

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