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 innovate 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 fortune!
- 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 problem domain.