It has come to my attention that there is a growing divide between those who believe that innovation is important and those that feel it is not.
Not long ago I spoke to a group of CEO's at a private club in London England, two blocks from Trafalgar square. Following the presentation I received an email from Silence Dogood the CEO of Craven Street Industries. I remembered the company because they have an office just down the street from where Ben Franklin lived in London. Mr. Dogood took offense at my focus on encouraging employees to innovate. In the interest of balance - I publish his email in it's entirety below...
Dear Dr. Hall,
I found your recent presentation on the Innovation Engineering movement to be irresponsible. Clearly you don't understand the real world. The real world of business is very tough these days. I simply cannot afford to have my employees thinking of new things. To compete in today's world they must stay focused on what matters. For us to survive we must continuously cut costs. For us to stay in business we must be reactive and responsive to what our customers ask us for. If we don't maintain discipline we soon won't have a business.
I am as passionate about NOT innovating as you are about pursuing innovation Over the years - I've mistakenly hired people who had dreams of innovating. Fortunately, I have developed a "system" to use your words - to get them to quit my company. I always prefer to have them quit rather than to fire them - as it's less disruptive - and I feel it's important to avoid confrontation.
- Step 1: Use Strategic Planning to Destroy Motivation: Strategic Planning is the most effective way to squash innovative thinkers. It is easy to defend strategic planning because the Harvard Business Review always has an article on why strategic planning is key to success. I simply circulate a recent HBR issue and declare that we need to think before we act. Done right, this process takes months to review all of our Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. As part of the process I like to include an offsite at a resort with a good golf course. During the off site session the innovator will often bring up ideas for doing new products, new services, new customers - but given my team of leaders - we can pretty much explain why these new ideas won't work. In the end the strategic thinking process is designed to recommend that we continue the current strategy with a few slightly new initiatives. It's best that these new programs be described in a vague way with no method for accomplishing them. This is valuable as it makes it look like you're doing something when in truth you're not. If you have a board of directors they can be very helpful with this as they often know how to say something that sounds important but really says nothing.
- Step 2: Starve Innovation Efforts of Time, Energy and Money to Destroy Moral: If the innovators don't give up after 9 months of strategic planning - then set them up as a "skunk works" within the organization. Starve them with not enough money or resources. Set them up to fail by setting time and performance metrics that can't be achieved. Tell the innovators you want to treat them like every other business using Management by Objectives. Note, when they complain that the nature of innovation is uncertainty and that they can't define outcomes with the same discipline as the businesses that have run for 30 years - don't listen to them. To steal a phrase from you Doug - tell them "no whining." If you've managed the starving of resources and objectives right you should be able to make them miss their goals pretty easily - and in the process destroy moral.
- Step 3 - Use your Staff Groups to Destroy Momentum: Your "infrastructure" is one of the most effective assets you have for destroying innovation. Legal can do risk and regulatory analysis. Product supply can bring up quality & liability issues. Finance can use pro-forma sales and profit forecasts to show very poor ROI. HR can find violations of company policy. Best of all - using the "infrastructure" to prevent innovation doesn't make you look like the "bad guy" - you're just being a professional and responsible business person.
- Step 4: Use Strategic Planning Again: Find another Harvard Business Review article and start the strategic planning process all over again. Tell the innovators that you want to suspend efforts till the new plan is finalized. State publicly your commitment to change however it's just not the right time to do it. Fortunately, there is always something new happening in the marketplace - a new competitor, a new technology, a change with customers - that you can use as the rational and reasonable reason to revise your strategic plan. Some companies even make never ending strategic planning a part of their culture. These companies spend 9 out of 12 months every year reworking their strategic plan. This is very useful as it makes sure you don't have time to actually do anything. When the innovators see the "cycle of strategic planning" beginning again they almost always quit. And, this is good - as peace reigns again.
Doug, I respect what you're trying to do. However, it's just not what I want to do. I'm happy with the way my company is. I simply don't have the time or energy to deal with employees who have delusional ideas for changes. Besides, I'm just 3 years from retirement.
In the interest of providing a more balanced and reasonable perspective to CEO's I dare you to publish this on your blog.