Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Identifying Innovation Killers - “That Will Never Work” Excuses

From Mr. Milind Limaye

Author of books
1. Quality Assurance Practices,
2. Software Testing - Principles, Tools and Techniques

There are innovation killers in organizations. One may not notice them easily because one has over the years grown tolerance for them, but an innovator could spot them in a minute. Those can be considered as innovation killers “that will never work” people because the minute someone comes up with a new idea, these individuals are first to offer up reasons why the new idea “will never work.”
A stubborn Missouri mule
A better label for these types of people is “innovation killer,” because they put a damper on important risk-taking and innovation activities. They may be the most dangerous people in the organization, possibly more dangerous than underperformers. Tolerating their presence may be costing millions of dollers in lost innovation, so one can suggest to develop a plan to limit their damaging behavior.
Why one must silence “Innovation Killers”
Organization can no longer expect to lead the pack in industry simply with continuous improvement efforts. Instead, one needs to raise the bar and develop a process that draws “continuous rapid innovation” from every individual and function in the organization. In order to get rapid continuous innovation one needs to understand that there are polarized factions within organization that either support or resist innovative ideas. In most organizations, one can split the individuals into three basic categories:
·        Innovation champions — People who are often “angry” with maintaining the status quo. Nokia calls them “fist raisers.” They seek out and fully support almost any kind of risk-taking and innovation ideas. These individuals are essential if organization expect to build a competitive advantage.
·        Must-be-convinced people — These people make up the majority in any group. They are comfortable with the status quo but with sufficient arguments and a strong business case, they will support moderate change.
·        “That will never work” innovation killers – Because the initial phases of risk-taking and innovation are highly fragile, new ideas are easy to undermine and get off track. These team members specialize in coming up with “that will never work” excuses when any new idea is presented. These are truly evil individuals that must be silenced or removed if one expects any level of risk taking and innovation in organization.
It is this last group that subtly but effectively undermines corporate innovation. In a meeting, even before a new idea is completely presented, they joyfully interrupt with arguments that usually include:
·        We tried that before … and it didn’t work
·        We are different … and it would never work here because it doesn’t fit our culture
·        That’s OK in theory… but I have been doing similar things for ‘n’ years and based on my experience, it won’t work
If one takes even a minute to connect these innovation-killer phrases to specific individuals in organization, one will find that these “that will never work” individuals are easy. Rather than taking the professional approach and trying to find ways around potential problems, these individuals instead try to cut off new ideas before they even get started. History is full of examples of these “that will never work” people. They were in the meeting when Columbus proposed to Italian leaders that it would be profitable to sail west to India; they suggested that FedEx was a silly idea; and more recently, they certainly laughed at the idea of Facebook, Twitter, and Zynga becoming profitable companies.
How to Silence Innovation Killers
There are several ways to silence or mitigate the impact of “that will never work” individuals within Organization. Some action steps to consider include:
·        Demonstrate the damage they cause — Take some time either individually or in a group meeting to list the ways that this behavior can damage innovation. Show everyone how detrimental this behavior can be for rapid improvement.
·        Forbid whining — Whining is defined as complaining about an idea without providing a possible method for mitigating or avoiding that problem. Simply make it a rule that an individual can’t propose barriers or problems without simultaneously providing a possible solution to each one.
·        Postpone criticism – Make it a standard practice that criticism of new ideas must be postponed until after the idea is completely presented.
·        Limit criticism – During initial presentation of an idea, limit the number of major criticisms of an innovative idea to three and only allow a single criticism from any one individual.
·        Encourage “find a way” behavior – Encourage and reward individuals who constructively identify ways to work around potential problems. Celebrate individuals who “find a way” around both real and imagined problems. Make heroes out of individuals who find benchmark examples of where the new practice has succeeded.
·        Forbid standard innovation killer phrases – Don’t allow anyone to use “innovation killer phrases” during meetings.
·        Ban them — Simply don’t allow these individuals to participate in idea generation meetings until their behavior changes.
How to Identify Innovation Killers
Most know exactly who these individuals are, but if one needs help there are several ways to identify “that will never work” individuals. Start by looking at situations where a vote is taken on a new idea. These individuals will consistently vote against trying things. One can also simply ask innovators to identify the individuals who they dread having in their presentations. Next, compare track records. Innovation killers will have likely never sponsored an innovation themselves.
The best way to identify “that will never work” people is by identifying who voice emotional arguments (without data to support them) related to why any proposed idea will never work. Occasionally one will find more than one of these individuals and they will literally “duel” each other during a presentation to see who can come up with the most program killer comments. One can compile a complete list of “excuses for doing nothing” and avoiding change that these individuals routinely use.
The Top “Innovation Killing Excuses”
Innovation killers use a common language and they use the same / similar excuses over and over. They specialize in phrases like these:
·        We tried that once already and it didn’t work (or I heard that it failed at XYZ firm)
·        We have always done it the current way and it has worked fine
·        I read somewhere that the program has lots of problems (or I can think of ____ good reasons why that can never work)
·        We might get sued if we did that (although no data is presented)
·        Budgets are tight and we simply can’t afford it (or I suggest we postpone it until next year when we have more resources)
·        You don’t understand — we are different (variations cover our culture and industry)
·        Our CEO/ bosses once said that he / they were against it (even though no quote is provided and that comment might have been years ago)
·        We could never get a consensus or “buy in” on it
·        We already had a vote not to do that
·        We have a policy against that
·        That idea runs counter to our values, mission or vision
·        The supporting numbers and metrics can be bent to prove anything
·        I am not comfortable with the data that supports the program
·        I don’t think / believe / feel that will work
·        Our stakeholders would never support it (employees/ the union/ our customers)
·        Our employee are already overworked, they can’t handle anything else (we will have a mutiny on our hands if we try this)
·        I have talked to a lot of people and they simply don’t support it
·        That won’t work in my region/country … we are unique and we have unique needs so we should be exempt
·        That’s OK in theory but I have been doing this for __ years and it won’t work (or that’s an academic solution… we live in the real world)
·        We once formed a committee / team but they couldn’t come up with a solution
·        Ideas that come from ___________ are never any good
·        Equity demands we treat everyone the same
·        We can’t use technology … we will lose the “human” touch
·        IT will never allow that and we have a weak track record using new technology
·        Our process, software or vendor won’t support that
“That Will Never Work” People Don’t Have to Be Employees

Milind Limaye
Management Consulting Practices
Consulting in ISO9001|ISO27001|ISO20000|ISO14001|BS18001|BS25999|ISO13485|TS16949|Integrated Management System|ITILV3|CMMi|BPR|Continual Improvement|ERM|Kai Zen|Waste Management

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