Your five step plan to kill your innovation programme

Times are tough. Your innovation programme has been gasping for air for months now, and finally, it's time to end it. You want to do that humanely of course, with minimum fuss. And you want to do it so that it looks like the process of innovation is continuing across the institution, whilst the formal effort is terminated.

For those of you in this boat, I present my five step plan for killing off an innovation programme.

Step 1 – Forget you are a salesman. Forget everything you know about selling new concepts and ideas, of influencing to get funding, and of being gunpowder to make sure the thing gets delivered. You know that innovative things take people outside their comfort zones, so you need to sell to reduce uncertainty to the point where someone can invest. Stop doing that: Its far better to build gadgets (with the highest level of uncertainty possible) and hope the money will come. It won't of course, but that's OK. We're trying to kill the programme here, not save it.

Step 2 – Disconnect your results from the money. Spend all your time doing things which are very innovation-forward but don't actually take out cost or create new income. Forget that incremental innovation can help you pay the bills and invest practically your whole budget on a new iPhone banking application. Make sure you rarely, if ever, see your colleagues in the business, because they wouldn't know anything anyway, and besides, we're not selling any more so what is the point? And finally, if you do do something that makes money, be sure that you don't tell the people who invest in your innovation programme. You wouldn't want them to get cold feet at the last minute and expand your programme, now, would you.

Step 3 – Run the "I'm under-funded" argument one more time. Most big money innovation programmes fail pretty quickly because innovation programmes can't scale to decent returns quickly in the short term, so they get de-prioritised against ordinary business as usual investment which do scale. But don't worry about that, because when you're doing innovation in a vacuum, you can never have enough money regardless of the return. You should ask your sponsors for as much money as they can possibly give you, waste that on gadgets and other things which make no material difference to anyone, and then go back for more. Trust me, you'll soon get the push back.

Step 4 – Complain that you don't have an "innovation culture". I've never been in any organisation where there weren't more brilliant ideas than anyone could use. Neither is the usually any shortage of people willing to take the baton and run with it. Innovation cultures are nascent everywhere. Ignore that, however, and forget your duty to foster an innovation culture one person at a time. Instead, throw your hands in the air and run in circles a few times saying "no-one is innovative in this place!", as if doing so will make a difference. Keep saying it so often that you actually believe it to be true. This will act as an anaesthetic during the termination which will surely follow.

Step 5 – Annoy your sponsor too little. Actually, make sure you are so far under the radar no-one at all hears anything at all about what you are doing. An innovation team that doesn't annoy anyone isn't doing much innovation: new ideas are uncomfortable for many people, especially those who have to deal with the consequences. If your sponsor has no consequences to deal with, then nothing is happening. It is a thin line innovators must walk though: too much disruption will get one closed down, but so will too little. I advocate the latter: when you disrupt too much you at least have the upside of the possibility of a major transformational change.

3 Responses to“Your five step plan to kill your innovation programme”

  1. Sam
    August 11, 2008 at 7:38 am #

    These are fighting words!

  2. August 11, 2008 at 8:44 am #

    Hi Sam,
    No, not fighting words. I was inspired by the meme about how to fail in business. I thought i’d jump on the bandwagon and talk about how to fail in innovation. Actually, one of my staff also wanted to know why I wrote this… can assure you all that there is no subtext that can be had by reading between the lines.

  3. Rich
    December 8, 2008 at 4:22 am #

    aargh – this hits too close to home….

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