How To Kill Innovation In 10 Easy Steps

Many of our organisations, without realising it, act as inhibitors of innovation.

Rules and protocols are put in place — often for very good reasons — that preserve the status quo. Over time, organisations develop a set of social norms — ‘the way we do things around here’ designed to protect the business from failure.

It’s time to refresh the innovation killers list for 2017..


ISO9000 (and other process management systems like it, such as Six Sigma, and Lean):  are shown to increase reliability.

However, in the longer term, they can make radical innovation plummet.

Systems that are good for one thing are not always good for another and you need to create a mix of exploration and implementation.

Fear of Failure

To successfully tackle the problems we face we need to experiment more. Many of those experiments just won’t work.

If we want to see a radical improvement in our services we’ll need to be forgiven by our organisations. We need places where people feel safe to fail. Where they won’t get punished for messing up.


Most corporate structures are uniquely designed to ensure that any decent idea never goes near the top table. Structures that support hierarchical decision-making limit opportunities for people to have influence and innovate.

The higher an idea moves up the chain of command, the more likely it is to be rejected, as the people furthest from the idea’s source will have a lesser understanding of its potential value.

Being Solution Focused

Innovation is fundamentally about solving problems, and you need to figure out what kind of problem you are trying to solve before identifying a solution.
Most organisations are solution focused. If you jump straight to answers two things happen:
  • you spend too little time on idea generation, experimenting, and thinking.
  • you miss the root cause entirely and embark on silver bullet solutions to the wrong problem.


What if we made it the number one objective of management to just get out of the way?

Most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in management and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. Are you a simplifier or a complexifier?

Prescriptive job design

Job descriptions are like organisational treacle. They cause inertia because the moment employees are given specific responsibilities they expect them to stand still. Specialisation and compartmentalisation reduce autonomy, variety and meaning in jobs, causing people to focus on ‘just doing the job’.

Silo Working

It’s hard to innovate when people work in silos. Splitting teams into isolated units limit the ability to identify which areas could be combined to create new products and services. Silos are great for teamwork, but a barrier to external collaboration. And in a networked era – we need to adopt very different strategies.

Lack of resources

Innovation is not about doing more stuff but doing less. We need to have honest conversations about decommissioning non-value-added services. Go to your website and find five things you could stop doing today.


Meetings are the number one idea killer in any organisation.

Meetings can crush ideas. They are all too often a corporate power play where ego runs rampant. People want to look like they are adding something in meetings and being hypercritical is highly valued. Putting your freshly hatched idea in that scenario is asking for trouble.

Reports and approvals

Let’s stop writing reports and use the resources to create a space where an idea can take its first few breaths without someone trampling all over it. Let it come to life in a nurturing environment through prototyping and testing – where we can see if it solves the right problems.

It’s time for us to stop talking and to start experimenting.

Saying you’re different isn’t enough – you have to act differently. 


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