At a recent presentation in Austin by Seilevel about the goals and
methods of requirements gathering, a member of the audience asked “What
can we do with our requirements to assure
innovation?” That’s a tough question with an easy answer – nothing.
What if the question had been “What can we do to prevent innovation?” That’s a better question with a lot of answers.
Struggling with too much innovation?
Yes, people have been innovating since fire and the wheel it’s a
curse we’ve inherited. In modern times, much of that innovation has
happened inside companies. 3M had the post-it note, Lockheed had the
skunkworks that created the SR71. Google allows their employees to
dedicate 20% of their time to whatever interests them – and Google’s
employees innovative a lot.
Most companies do a good job of providing incremental improvements
to existing products and processes. What are those few who struggle
with innovation doing wrong?
Companies with track records of innovation have flawed processes.
- They fail to screen out likely innovaters in their hiring process.
- They mismanage their employees, who end up innovating when they should be towing the line.
- They inadvertantly reward innovation instead of mediocrity with recognition and compensation.
- They create opportunities to innovate and their employees drive Mack trucks through these loopholes.
Here is some guidance about how to fix those problems:
Top ten tips for preventing innovation
- Hire employees looking for safety in their roles.
Innovation happens when people stretch outside their comfort zones –
don’t let them stretch! Find people who primarily want security and a
nine-to-five role, stay away from those troublemakers who want to
“change the world.”
- Hire incompetent employees. What better way to
prevent innovation than to have people who have to focus just to do the
bare minimum? For extra safety, try and find someone who can take
credit for other people’s work and hide their own incompetence – these
people are easier to promote, which will become important later. If we
are forced to hire someone who is competent, it’s critical that we make
sure that they only have one area of expertise. People with more than
one area of expertise, switch-hitters, just cause trouble by talking to people on other teams.
- Keep salaries below the 75th percentile.
Innovators know their value – and when they aren’t applying for jobs
with intrinsic utility to them, they are commanding higher salaries. If
we keep our salaries low, there’s much less risk of one of these
innovators sneaking into our organization. As a bonus, we’ll save a
- Read The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley of IDEO.
He focuses on the types of people and organizational behavior that
encourage innovation. The writing style is very clever – Mr. Kelley
writes as if he were trying to encourage innovation – what a
riot! He identifies ten personas that contribute to innovation. Put
those ten faces on the wall in HR like an FBI most-wanted poster and
coach HR to screen those people out.
- Treat employees like garbage. Yell at them. Whenever possible, call them at midnight to yell at them some more. They work for us.
If they get uppity, make them work on the weekends. Make them dig holes
and fill them back up again. Threaten them – especially when they need the job. If you can’t yell, at least be condescending in public forums. Remember we are smarter than they are. Punks.
- Reward conservative and marginal successes. The
old rule of thumb for office politics was “It takes ten good projects
to recover from one bad project.” Stick to it! If we punish people for
mistakes when they ’swing for the fences’, and reward them for marginal
and safe projects, they will quickly get the idea. This is the most
subtle of all the tips – but don’t worry – people will figure out the
reward system and shy away from those risky projects. This technique
has the added benefit of propogating itself up and down the management
hierarchy. Many organizations get lucky, and do this one accidentally.
Wish we were all so lucky!
- Micromanage. We’ve been promoted because we
understand their jobs so well that we could do them in our sleep.
Whatever those pesky little people think, it’s wrong. We know what we
want, we know how we want it (not like that, you fool!). Every day we
should make sure they do things exactly like we want. Even things like
using the right font in their emails can be important. If anything
slips thru unmanaged, then we aren’t doing our jobs. Of course, if we
have a good boss, he’ll tell us exactly how to manage them.
- Only create customer-requested features. Let our
customers tell us what to do. Lucky for us – customers don’t have big
ideas, they keep us focused on what we’re doing. Don’t let them whine
about their other problems – that’s not why we’re talking to
them. We just want to know if they like the idea of animated buttons on
all the dialogs. Stay away from the unhappy customers – if we aren’t
getting the job done now, well, we don’t really care what they say
(they are existing customers, we need new customers). We’re here to solve our
problems. Oh – and don’t second guess the customer. If they say they
want the menu items in alphabetical order, well, that’s what they want.
The customer is always right. If Henry Ford had listened, think of how
fast horses would be today. Even better, appoint a user-representative, then we don’t have to talk to the customers at all.
- Make performance reviews easy. Create some
easy-to-measure metrics (like # of sick-days taken, # of powerpoint
slides created, # of meetings attended), and use those for performance
reviews. People always gravitate toward the metric.
We can run the reviews with a minimum of effort, giving us more time to
tell them how to do their jobs. Just an hour a year. Some managers can
give feedback in 15 minutes.
- Build a kingdom. When we have information, that
means we have power. With that power, we can grow our organization. The
more people we have, the more important we are. We need to make sure
that those other teams don’t get our information. They might apply it
in ways that we didn’t intend. While we’re at it – make sure our people
don’t find out what we know. Not only will it protect us from them, but
it will keep them from accidentally discovering a more important
problem, or an alternate way to apply what they already know to a new