Do Posts Asking if Something Kills Innovation Kill Innovation?

One really good way to get traffic to your blog is to take a shot at a broad class of people, and do it with a catchy title. The latest version comes from FastCoDesign, which published the post “Do Innovation Consultants Kill Innovation?

Gregg Fraley and Jeffrey Phillips wrote quick responses, both affirming the negative.

I tend to agree with Gregg and Jeffrey. But the authors of the original post, Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen, do raise an important point – which is that big firms need to move from innovation-thinking to innovation-doing.

In their recommendations, Skibsted and Hansen make the same mistake that these ineffective big firms often make – they mistake creativity for innovation. All of the post makes this conflation:

People with strong, creative talents are essential to the development of innovations, and the difference between success and disaster is largely defined by the selection of a good team–not by its processes. Just as a company can hire an ad agency or designer to create an ad or a product, companies in all industries need to find ways to tap into a network of people, small companies, or institutions with real inventions and show them some faith.

Sometimes a company will have to breed and nurse the talent itself. Sometimes the talent are guns for hire. But companies should have the confidence to give them the freedom to explore the high-risk messiness and the fuzzy, nonlinear ways in which innovation grows.

Let’s say for a moment that creativity is purely the realm of creative genius – I don’t necessarily agree, but we’ll grant that for a minute. The innovation problem that big firms have isn’t a creativity problem – it’s an execution problem. Here is what Phillips says about this:

The authors have a point – some innovation can be risky, messy and non-linear. But that doesn’t mean the entire innovation capability should be left completely to chance! For anything to get done in a modern business, someone needs to be responsible and there needs to be some structure, some knowledge and some best practice. We can’t wait for the immaculate conception of innovation – we need to provide knowledge, tools, understanding and some people and process who understand how these things work.

The common issue here is that people always forget Sturgeon’s Law90% of everything is crud.

Do innovation professionals innovate poorly? Most of them probably do, maybe even 90% of them.

Do innovation consultants give people bad or useless advice? Most of them probably do, maybe even 90% of them.

My advice from the last time I talked about this still holds:

Nothing is always absolutely so.

Now, that’s a really bad point to try to build a blog post around. It’s always a lot harder to explain why there are exceptions to every rule. It’s easier to make big categorical statements. It’s more fun, it’s easier to make lists out of them, they get more tweets, and +1s, etc.

It’s a lot harder to figure out how to identify the 10% of something that isn’t crud. But if you’re looking for a management consultant, here are some of the questions you can ask that might help:

  • Do they have experience with my type of problem?
  • Do they use one-size-fits-all tools or do they really learn about what’s going on inside an organisation?
  • Do they only focus on the easy part (pointing out what’s wrong), or do they have useful things to say about execution as well?

That’s just a start, and you can build a similar list of questions for everything.

The concern that I have about the original article is this: the authors are taking aim at the two groups that are most likely to care the most about improving innovation inside of firms. Demoralizing these groups may well kill innovation – and that’s not good.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “Do Posts Asking if Something Kills Innovation Kill Innovation?

  1. Agree altogether that execution is usually the challenge at your average organization. Also agree with Sturgeons Law — which applies to consultants AND innovation teams. Heck if innovation were easy, everybody would do it. Thanks for the mention of my post, I enjoyed reading your insightful take.

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