THE BLOG
06/11/2013 05:38 pm ET | Updated Aug 11, 2013

Eleven Innovation Buzzkills

Ask almost any executive what they want in their stocking for Christmas next year and they'll say, "Innovation!" That's why HBR and Fast Company and Inc. and every other business magazine trumpets the latest thinking about innovation. Ignore for a second the obvious reasons for this - that we Americans are hopelessly enamored of the shiny new  thing, that we're too lazy to do the hard work of mastering something.  Worse than Innovation being over-exposed is the plain fact that we say we want to be innovative but we don't live that way. It's like supermarket magazines selling diets. We don't want to live skinny, we just want to be skinny. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way.

If you're grumpy about the whole Innovation thing and just want it to go away, here are eleven sure-fire rules that will snuff it out in your organization.

    Give him a Scooby snack! Give him a Scooby snack!
  1. Rule 1 - Feed the barking dogs. That's right, if you want to kill innovation, be sure to focus on the urgent stuff. Urgent stuff will almost always be taking care of today's business or tweaking things to be a little better. Innovation usually involves carving out time and money to focus on exploratory work even when the dogs of today's business are barking their faces off. I say feed the dogs. Give them Scooby snacks. Let them wag their little tails of joy when you give them all of your energy. Pat them on the heads and thank them for saving you from Innovation.

  2. Rule 2 - Treat all the kids equally. Innovative companies have this annoying habit of being unequal. If you ask them, they'll get all huffy and tell you that being fair and being equal are two very different things. "Feed success and starve failure" is how they put it. They throw more resources at things that are working and brutally cut off things that aren't. How unfair is that?!? I say even failures deserve to eat. In fact, if you want to kill innovation like I do, make sure you give each effort equal resources. Avoid nasty choices and keep everyone happy. That'll teach them.

  3. Rule 3 - Ask for good ideas but don't tell people what you're looking for. When any of those pesky innovation people you haven't rooted out of your organization ask for direction on what sorts of ideas would get management support (showing you've utterly failed on Rule 1), tell them "Good ones!" Then smile benignly. When they bring an idea back to you, tell them, "Hmmm... well, that's not quite it. Try again." Don't worry, eventually they'll get exasperated and bring their so-called creative thinking somewhere else. Good riddance. If you do mistakenly give them clear guidelines, they might start to self-filter and stop wasting their precious time. That would be bad. Nothing teaches someone to stop trying like making them waste time.

  4. Rule 4 - Have an annual Innovation Summit. This one's a killer and I love it. Put on a shindig each year that trumpets your focus on Innovation. Invite inspirational speakers. Spend wads of cash. Then be sure to ignore innovative projects and ventures the rest of the year. If innovation appears on your regular meeting agendas at all, put it at the end or even better after lunch when everyone is either snoozing or surreptitiously checking email on their smartphones under the desk. Pretty soon, everyone will know that innovation is a charade in your company. And kids, who doesn't love charades? Next year, they'll be carrying you on their shoulders at the annual Innovation Summit.

  5. Rule 5 - Slaughter failures. We all know that innovation is messy, like the invention of the Twinkie must have been. You don't get all of that fake goodness in one plastic pouch without spilling some artificially flavored filling on the floor every now and then. Whatever you do, yell at people when stuff hits the floor. People have a hard time concentrating when their hair is getting blown back by a human hair dryer. Eventually, they'll just stop trying new things. Better yet, when they do secretly try something and fail, they'll hide what they learned. That way, they'll be wasting someone else's time by making them learn stuff the hard way. See also Rule 3.


  6. Cubicle Prison Stick your innovators here...

  7. Rule 6 - Make innovation lonely. You know what they do with dangerous prisoners? They put them in solitary confinement. Do the same thing with your innovative people. Make them learn to tap on the walls of their cubicles to share ideas. Just don't even think of getting them together to "blue sky" or "ideate," whatever the heck that means. Which reminds me, don't let them hang out with consultants who have nothing better to do than invent ridiculous words like ideate.

  8. Rule 7 - Expect home runs. Here's the great thing about innovation: it's risky. In fact, failures far outweigh successes. So just make it known that every new venture has to be a blockbuster or your career around here is finished. That will put a nice chilling effect on 99% of the population because they're not independently wealthy and actually need jobs. Losers! Even better, discourage people from setting intermediate metrics or identifying core assumptions. That way they'll have a hard time learning anything (at least until it's too late!) and they can waste more time. At the risk of being repetitively redundant, see again Rules 3 and 5.

  9. Rule 8 - Ignore your users. Down deep, those innovation freaks love making life better for users. You must starve them of this drug to cure them of the addiction. Keep them far, far away from users. Don't collect information about your users and what their lives are really like - or even more fun, collect it but hide it. What a delightful waste of time! Have them worry about what the bosses want instead. That's the side of the bread they should be buttering.

  10. Rule 9 - Hide the secret sauce. Whether you like it or not (and believe me, I know you hate it), your company probably has a secret sauce. There's something you do really well - or could do really well - that would make users come back to you over and over. At all costs, don't let your team discover that sauce. Or if they do, please please don't let them think about how to deliver that saucy goodness consistently to more people. Let them think of it like that magic trick you do for friends that works 25% of the time. We can probably live with 25%-of-the-time magic because users hate that kind of inconsistency. See also airlines and Rule 8.

  11. Rule 10 - Take the gate off the playpen. To really give Innovation a kick up the backside, only hire kids and hipsters to your innovation teams. You and I are stinky old buzzkills and we all know it. Those kids, they have all of the answers. Except they don't. Which is the delicious part. By only having kids on the innovation teams, you'll get a lot of ideas but starve the teams of the pattern recognition required to make wise decisions. Then you can tell your boss that you tried the innovation thing and it didn't work. As the kids apparently used to say, "Epic!"

  12. Rule 11 - Do knock-offs. We all know that nothing succeeds like success. So restrict your teams to only trying things that have worked elsewhere. Have them benchmark endlessly. If imitation is the best form of flattery, be the world's biggest suck-up. See also Hollywood, book publishing and Rule 7.

Of course, you get the point that this is the way too many companies work. They want to be innovative, but they kill innovation through their unwritten rules. To actually be innovative, they'd have to flip these rules on their heads. They'd have to give up dieting and change their lifestyles. Then you couldn't kill innovation no matter how hard you tried.

Be bright(er). Noonday Sun