Don’t drown the puppy

As you know, I am a big advocate of doing what we call here at the bank "drowning the puppy". We've had puppy drowning as part of our innovation team culture for ages, and even celebrate those who can do it the quickest. One person currently holds the record: 9 minutes from concept to drowning, and that included a vendor meeting.

I've always held that puppy drowning is an important part of the innovation process. Ideas are emotional things. Once you have them, you get attached to to them. The longer you hold them, the harder it is to let them go. Sooner or later, even if the ideas isn't going to work, you are so emotionally invested that you'll push it through regardless.

Anyway, last night I was at Capgemini , where they are working to create a cross-industry innovation forum. It was the second meeting, one that had people from a few different sectors. Under Chatham House Rules, of course, so I'm not going to say who was there or what we really said.

But here is something that came out: Don't kill projects, morph them. Or in other words, don't drown the puppy.

So I then went back through some of our projects when I got home, and actually, this describes what happens quite a lot in my own innovation function. A project which initially seem like it needs to be drowned gets changed into something else and we push on. We still call it drowning the puppy, but we've really done is give the puppy plastic surgery.

This is an interesting insight, but one that causes me some problems.

My team and I process more than a thousand ideas a month through various ideation systems we run for the bank. There really isn't the bandwidth available to have more than one shot at things.

One of the Pharma guys at the forum pointed out this has been a classic mistake for his industry for years. A drug which fails to perform in one area could easily be the wonder drug for another. Pfizer with Viagra is the classic example.

It has been a conundrum over which I've lost sleep during the evening. And what I've concluded is something I probably should have realised earlier. Ideas have a certain escape velocity, but we've always felt we had to provide the fuel (read my post on that here).

Some ideas, though, have enough fuel to reach escape velocity on their own. Those are the ones that morph, and they will do it whether you try to force them to or not.

Update: after this comment, I fixed the spelling of CapGemini. Sorry for the mistake.

5 Responses to“Don’t drown the puppy”

  1. August 29, 2008 at 9:11 am #

    Got to be the first with this – its Friday, after all.
    In one post you’ve mentioned Viagra, being kept up all night, needing more than one shot at things and “reaching escape velocity”.
    Who says there no humour in banking, eh James?

  2. August 29, 2008 at 9:14 am #

    Neil, as always, you are ever so quick off the mark. Have a nice Friday.

  3. August 30, 2008 at 6:46 am #

    “Anyway, last night I was at CapGemeni, where they are working to create a cross-industry innovation forum.”
    Oh dear 🙂

  4. Bart
    September 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm #

    It is Capgemini not Capgemeni

  5. Tim Gray
    September 3, 2008 at 3:45 pm #

    Whether or not you “drown the puppy” probably depends on the circumstances. If you’ve spent millions developing a new drug then exploring cosmetic surgery makes sense. But, as in your case, if you have more ideas than you can adequately evaluate, then it makes sense to be pretty ruthless in drowning them puppies. The trick is to keep track of the ones you drown and if they seem to keep coming back to life….

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