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The enemies of innovation are usually found inside the company

Mar 26, 2012 Business Daily, Strategy

1. The Victims (“Can you believe what they want us to do now? And of course we have no time to do it. I don’t get paid enough for this. The boss is clueless.”
2. The Non-Believers (“Why should we work so hard on this? Even if we come up with a good idea, the boss will probably kill it. If she doesn’t, the market will. I’ve seen this a hundred times before.”)
3. The Know-It-Alls (“You people obviously don’t understand the business we are in. The regulations will not allow an idea like this, and our stakeholders won’t embrace it. Don’t even get me started on our IT infrastructure’s inability to support it. And then there is the problem of ….”)

G. Michael Maddock AND Raphael Louis Vitón, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK (NOVEMBER 8, 2011)

The excellent article excerpted above caught my eye recently.

To succeed in today’s world, it’s pretty much a given that you have to be aggressively creative and innovative. “More of the same” just won’t work anymore. There is too much disruptive change looming on every horizon. It’s time to experiment and try stuff out.

But guess what? Messrs Maddock and Vitón tell us that the greatest enemies of innovation may well be found right inside your organization. They identify three types of people who “block innovation from happening and will suck the energy out of any organization.”

This rings true. Most organizations are filled with ‘victims’ who whine and moan incessantly; with ‘non-believers’ who don’t believe anything can ever change or improve; and with ‘know-it-alls’ who will find a hundred reasons something CAN’T be done.

The frightening thing is that these employees aren’t just employed in peripheral roles; they often sit close to the top of the pyramid, blocking and stifling every attempt to do something new.

Consider this: if Safaricom had had too many of these types of naysayers in influential places, would it ever have launched the epochal M-Pesa product? An initiative like that took genuine guts. It was not for the faint-hearted. If the doubters prevailed, it would never have even got off the design table. But it did, and Kenya, Africa and the world is better off as a result.

If Equity Bank was populated with cynics and pessimists, would it ever have attempted its game-changing mass banking model? At a time when every bank in Kenya was doing the precise opposite – closing branches and setting minimum-balance requirements? Of course it would not have. A more jittery management team would have played safe and played me-too. It would never have found the spine to make a billion-shilling investment in IT infrastructure to attempt so unprecedented a feat. But it did, and now the world applauds.
These examples reveal something about management. If you’re a leader who wants to change things, shake up a market, attempt something never seen before – you’d better have the right people around you. Big hearts and open minds are needed to do the unthinkable.

Most managers, sadly, are rendered timid by too much education, too much experience, and too much interaction with the mandarins of their own industry. These people will shoot down every attempt to bring in the new and ring out the old. They can’t help themselves. Their every interest is to maintain the status quo, not to challenge it. And they will very likely infect everyone around them with the same fear and loathing of new things.

The authors put it nicely: “(The right employees) must fail fearlessly and quickly and then learn and share their lessons with the team. When they behave this way, they empower others around them to follow suit—and presto, a culture of discovery is born and nurtured.”


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