9 Rules on Destroying Innovation

Some businesses seem to work their hardest to stifle innovation. There are many reasons this occurs and Rosabeth Moss Kanter from HBR identified 9 rules we should pin on our walls to avoid. We know this occurs in businesses both large and small and in most sectors (including technology), so no one is free from innovation killers.

I provided my interpretation of the rules below.

  1. Be wary when someone brings you new ideas from outside your organization or from a cubicle. Surely, the best ideas are already being dreamed up in the C-suite and are already on someone’s roadmap.
    • Lesson: be open to new ideas no matter their source. That doesn’t mean you should be foolhardy and hasty, but recognize that new ideas cane come from anywhere.
  2. Consider, ‘that one time’ when a similar idea failed. Then, describe in generalizations just how awful that was. 
    • Lesson: recognize that times change quickly, and an old idea may be well suited for the new environment. Cisco tried, unsuccessfully, to launch a cloud product before consumers and other interrelated technologies were ready. That didn’t mean it was a bad idea.
  3. Drive your workers hard so they don’t have free time. If they look like they have some spare time, give them new projects and demand more PowerPoint presentations.
    • Lesson: if people have a bit of free time, encourage them to find something productive to do. If you have a team that wants to think big and take on new challenges, make sure you provide the support and resources to do it. Google, 3M and many other companies have found great success in 20% time.
  4. Create a culture of merciless competition. Make it clear that there are factions in your organization and ‘only the strong survive.’
    • Lesson: Encourage cooperation and collaboration. Recognize that all products won’t be winners, and learn from mistakes (quickly).
  5. Follow a very clear-cut shop of metrics and predictability. Only allow work that can be counted and dropped into a spreadsheet that aligns work quarter by quarter. If people want to go ‘above and beyond’ or even beat expectations, don’t show them any appreciation because that work wasn’t budget for.
    • Lesson: Stay flexible and adapt to changes. Focus most on the substance of the work, rather than just the style in which it was done.
  6. Keep information only at the senior levels and then announce it to everyone in a big quarterly team meeting. Strategy, of course, should only be discussed by people who have put in their time at the organization and you wouldn’t want to give anyone the idea that their ideas can shape the org.
    • Lesson: Bring in new blood to discussions. You never know where the next winning idea or solution will come from.
  7. Fear risk and punish people who can’t achieve major goals. To top it off, make sure to humiliate your team in large meetings so people understand how important success is. 
    • Lesson: Remember that lofty goals won’t always be met. Find the people who love stretch goals, and give them the opportunity to succeed. Figure out how people like to be recognized for their work and follow through.
  8. When things go wrong, send the blame downward. It’s a simple rule: credit up the flag pole, and blame right on down. Chat with your peers about how great your ideas are but the talent who should be implementing them are just incompetent. Surely, it’s not your fault!
    • Lesson: 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, it will undermine faith in anyone else's ideas.
  9. The most important rule of all is that you should remember here is that you’ve been successful because you’ve learned everything there is to know about success in business.  Relax, and sit back!
    • Lesson: Even the top dog as more to learn. Change is inevitable and is the force that allows us to keep improving and growing our businesses.