Jeffrey Baumgartner

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Cartoon: the Un-innovation Consultant

The Un-Innovation Consultant

Last night, I dreamed I was an uninnovation consultant; I dreamed that companies paid me handsomely to dismantle their innovation activities. Business was booming in my dream as organisations were desperate to rid themslves of their horrendously inefficient innovation systems. So successful was I in my dream, that I woke up tempted to launch this business. However, after my morning cappuccino, rationality prevailed and I have decided to write about the idea instead.

After innovation took off as a fad about a decade ago, not-so-innovative businesses scrambled to launch innovation initiatives such as running brainstorms, setting up suggestion schemes, buying idea management software and launching crowdsourcing webs to capture ideas from everyone in the known universe. However, as I have written in the past, brainstorms and idea software collect loads of boring ideas, numerous irrelevant (to business needs) ideas and few viable ideas. The creative sales thugs who promote these services and tools assure their clients that this is how innovation works. You have to capture and document 100s of ideas in order to have one good idea.

"Says who?" I ask. Where is there any empirical evidence that you need to document lots of ideas in order to have one creative idea? I do not deny that creative people run through lots of ideas in their heads before coming up with a brilliant idea. But they do not document their boring ideas. Instead, they reject them outright and focus their thinking on unconventional ideas. Only when an original, unconventional, creative idea comes to mind, does the creative person document it and develop it.

Even the Good Ideas Do Not Go Anywhere

Even when a truly creative idea is documented and developed as a project that promises innovative results (remember, innovation is the implementation of creative ideas in order to generate value -- in other words, an idea is not innovative until it has been implemented), the resulting projects must be approved by committees, risk-averse managers and conservative purchasing directors all of whom can dilute the creativity of a project or reject it all together.

The result is, in many aspiring innovative businesses, you have systems to capture ideas of which at least 99% are rejected; creative projects whose creative details are stripped out by committees; and teams who spend many hours putting together potentially innovative proposals that are rejected as too risky. As business systems go, this is probably the most inefficient one ever invented!

Or to put it another way, these systems are eating resources with few if any discernable results! This begs the question of why supposedly rational CEOs proudly sponsor such systems.

Flush Cash Down the Toilet Instead

Hiring a team to flush cash down the toilet would probably bring similar bottom-line results. Not only are flushing cash down the toilet and inefficient innovation systems a waste of money, they are also immensely demotivating. Employees spend precious time formulating ideas that they drop into the black hole of a suggestion scheme. They participate in brainstorms that will lead to lists of ideas that are filed away in some manager's desk. They join project teams and lovingly develop creative details only to have all of those details stripped away by risk averse committees.

It Does Not Need to Be This Way

It does not need to be this way! Firstly, top management needs to work out whether or not the company really wants to do innovation. If not, top management should not bother. The innovation fad in business is fading and wellness is the next big thing. Reluctant innovators can now safely dump their innovation consultants and replace them with mindfulness coaches instead -- and trend watchers will admire them for doing so.

Reluctant innovators can shut down their suggestion schemes and idea management software and just focus on doing business without the headache of innovation. It's good enough. Really!


Or, the CEO can decide that innovation REALLY is important and can initiate changes that will lead to efficient innovation systems. Employees can learn to use anticonventional thinking which focuses on building a single creative vision rather than a long list of boring ideas.

The CEO can initiate fast track approval systems that allow teams with creative ideas to test those ideas before committees strip those ideas of their creative dignity.

The CEO can remind her people that innovation is not about innovation. It is about living up to the corporate vision of the organisation and actively encouraging not ideas but innovative action that meets that simple criterion.

But, frankly, dumping the whole innovation thing is probably easier. In fact, I am willing to give the uninnovation consultant thing a go if you are willing to hire me!



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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium




My other web projects

My other web projects 100s of articles, videos and cartoons on creativity - possibly useful things I have learned over the years. reflections on international living and travel. - paintings, drawings, photographs and cartoons by Jeffrey