Despite all the press attention, academic philosophizing and consultant ramblings, Innovation is a bitch. Its a capricious, messy, disruptive practice whose outcome is unclear in the best circumstances. Sure, its standard fare in mission statements and press releases but smart managers know there are plenty of good reasons to delay or even destroy some eager beavers efforts at “innovation” within your company. Chief among these is to maintain your place in the corporate pecking order and a close second would be to ensure that your not “innovated” out of your familiar/comfortable routine by some acronym spewing upstart. There are many other reasons you might want to kill innovation within your firm, this post wont delve into the why of killing innovation as much as it seeks to address the how of killing innovation.
The biggest task when planning to kill an”innovative” new idea is to ensure your not pegged the “luddite contrarian” and so its important that you use the latest consulting approved verbiage to show that your “with it”. The following list of 5 questions are sure to put an end to almost all innovation either though modification of the idea into something less disruptive or delaying it into irrelevance. These questions have been developed to target all forms of “innovation” that can disrupt a standard business and draw attention away from the things that make money today. So without further ado I present the 5 questions guaranteed to kill innovation.
I have included some intimidating jargon to throw around if your nemesis, and would-be innovator, challenges your right to question them and their logic. The questions themselves tend to contains enough jargon for most situations but if you need to add a little zinger then throw in the jargon I’ve supplied. However, this jargon is generally meaningless and wont stand-up to significant scrutiny so be sure to use only when the focus isnt on you and your credibility is relatively high.
Question: How can we leverage our core competencies to tackle this new market?
How to deliver: Deliver with a sincerity and concern for the success of the initiative.
Why its a killer: This will be accepted as a completely reasonable question to ask. Its also really easy for the “innovator” to accept as a small step forward and will generally be accepted as useful guidance. As they reshape their idea to better fit within whatever mythology the company has about its “core competencies” the idea will be so watered down and safe that it will do little more then cause a resource allocation issue within an established group.
Possible Innovator Push-back: “The company needs to develop new competencies if its going to innovate.” Your Answer: The fastest way to fail is to reach beyond our grasp to quickly. We should innovate from our base and leverage its strength.
Intimidating Jargon: “Six Sigma styled total quality initiatives may level the playing field , but only innovation from our core can provide sustainable competitive advantage.”
Prognosis: Terminal. This will ultimately kill any innovative idea as both the company and the innovator themselves work towards doing something that “fits” within well worn tracks of the company.
Question: How much money can we make and whats the plan to make it?
How to deliver: Deliver as a critical challenge to the idea, push hard on understanding the size and and time frame of revenue generation.
Why its a killer: A focus on the revenue side of the equation is a time wasting exercise in futility. This ruse will keep the project in perpetual development mode with an ever increasing array of wild assumptions about where and how money can be made. The beauty of this is that as you keep the would-be innovator focused on making money in a marketplace that may not exist, from customers that dont know they want the offering, the innovator is just as likely to conclude that it isnt worth pursuing or presenting and may kill the idea themselves.
Possible Innovator Push-back: “Its innovative so noone knows how to make money in this area yet.” Your Answer: That may be true and we’ll be better positioned to dominate the market if we have the discipline to think through how we would make money and modeled the options.
Intimidating Jargon: “Can you put some color around the revenue model?” “Lets drill down on the revenue side and begin to socialize some revenue opportunities through the model.”
Prognosis: Terminal. Innovation often requires a leap of faith about the market or customer need, the focus on revenue keeps the innovator from making that leap as long as she is attempting to quantify it, which is impossible.
Question: Have you done enough research on the idea and do you need more money to make it happen?
How to deliver: Deliver as if you were the innovator herself and a true project champion. Show lots of enthusiasm.
Why its a killer: Although innovation often results from constraints of time and money NO innovator will refuse more time and more money to perfect their idea. If you can support the extension of both time and money the innovator will get so excited about the potential of their idea that they will invariably open up new areas of exploration. Your job is to suggest areas of potential research, testing, quantification and discussion as well as tacitly recommend funding to make it happen. With both time and money the innovator will pursue the perfect solution, for the perfect client, in the perfect market, and as they do a couple of other companies will launch similar products that are less feature rich but usable and your troublesome innovators project will be quietly shuttered.
Possible Innovator Push-back: “We’ve got enough information we need to launch, now.” Your Answer: Why be second to market with an inferior product? Lets get more research and consumer feedback and launch with exactly what consumers tell us they want.
Intimidating Jargon: “We should deliver consumer centric, value added products back-up by research thats gotten into the consumers mind.”
Prognosis: Critical. This question is a a slow killer and the time lag is why the prognosis is critical not terminal. The innovator could get hip and push out a public beta or even worse the delay and research could actually result in a better offering that people use.
Question: Who else is doing this, and if noone is, why?
How to deliver: Deliver with an air of complete seriousness. (This question has been roundly lampooned but is still a great innovation killer.)
Why its a killer: This is a great innovation killer as it gets the innovator thinking about running with the pack rather then striking out in new directions. If there are no competitors it sows doubt about the attractiveness of the project and this doubt tends to spread. If there are competitors then its a simple process to argue for why the competitor is better suited to execute on the opportunity or is likely to move in before it takes hold. In either case, the innovators thinking is going to be driven by competitors and competitive response and not internal passion or market needs.
Possible Innovator Push-back: “It a new idea, we are the first to market.” Your Answer: “There are few new ideas and most VC’s say if noone is interested in the space theres probably a reason.”
Intimidating Jargon: “Maintaining an expansive external view is critical for guaging the market. We shouldnt be navel gazers.”
Prognosis: Critical. This is another slow killer that is likely to result in the group coming to have deep doubts (and therefore little support) for an idea or killing it outright. This isnt terminal because its possible that competitors have left gaps that the innovator could stumble upon and a successful product launch could result.
Question: How big is the market and will consumers want this solution?
How to deliver: Say this, Columbo style, as the last question before the end of a meeting, as if it just popped in to your head.
Why its a killer: This is another question that forces your would-be innovator to choose between trying to quantify the future states of a nonexistent market or build towards the current market. Given the nature of companies and the dynamics of groups most people will choose the latter over the former. Market information (generally defined in terms of size and margin potential) will always push “innovators” towards the more familiar know opportunities, the ones your likely to prefer, and away from the more edgy and radical opportunities. Also the consumer question could be stand on its own as an innovation killer. Generally speaking consumers cant tell you what they want and dont really know it until they see it (or see someone else with it).
Possible Innovator Push-back:
Intimidating Jargon: “Sustaining sequential innovation, requires a market focsed business process.”
Prognosis: Critical. Properly phrased and delivered, this question can eaisly add 6 months to the life-cycle of any project. The combination of irrefutable need to make a business case (which includes market sizing) along with the irrelevance of the information to innovative ideas, naturally results in critical delays and the re-enforcing of doubts about the most radical/innovative aspects of an offering.
If your office is infested with “innovators” and their constant whining about change, disruption and wave jumping is interfering with your daily routine, then its time to rid yourself of these pesky office nuisances. Stop waiting around for a miracle to drive them away take the innovators approach and be proactive. Just memorize these 5 simple questions and I guarantee that you will be stifling change, shutting down disruptive ideas and saving your company millions.