Ways To Kill Business Innovation Through Analysis

Want to kill a good innovative idea?

Analyze it in some obviously logical yet inappropriate way.

It would be murder but you are unlikely to get caught. 

When thinking about this I always remember an old accounting example where we try to help the owner of a diner decide if it would be a good idea to add a rack of snacks to his cash wrap.  By working with $/foot and other wonderfully useful tools we prove that it would be an unprofitable innovation. Of course that ignores the fact that the snacks were add-on sales – wrong analysis, lost opportunity.

Umar Hamique presents a great list of ways to inappropriately analyze innovative ideas. Traps you can easily fall into because the methods are logical, but the results are disastrous due to strategic and other circumstances that require a more open. Great quote of the piece: “The fundamental error is simple, managing is more than counting…”

What is clear, is that with a clear strategic focus you can measure the importance of innovation to your future in ways that go well beyond the immediate bottom line. 

Killed any good ideas lately?

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16 Responses to Ways To Kill Business Innovation Through Analysis

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Fred, Do you think there’s any advantage for an organization to have someone play an idea killer role? Does it keep the organization “honest” and prevent out of control creativity?

  2. Good question Brad, I find myself so often railing against processes that stifle creativity it’s easy to forget the other side of the coin. However, my personal opinion is that the natural role of a manager is to make those decisions based on strategy and available budget. Someone has to be steering the boat and in the end it falls on their shoulders to decide which innovations are worth following.

  3. Brad Shorr says:

    Hmm. I have mixed feelings about this issue. The adversary system works pretty well in our legal system, but should we try to orchestrate the same dynamic in the workplace?

  4. Didn’t mean to suggest that we open up a ‘court of innovation’ but I can see how that might be the natural outcome. Brrrrr. The problem with adopting an official adversarial system into an environment like this is that it could create an official ‘win’ for ideas that are killed. Someone who saw their job in that light would not be an asset for long. (Now that you’ve made me think about it, this probably explains the behavior of some folks I have known over the years.) However, accepting the sometimes adversarial bent of us humans can go a long way to ensuring more appropriate argument. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if there is a perfect answer.

    When you’ve tried to get an organization to move on an idea would a more formalized process have helped? Or maybe just an organization more aware of how ‘sparky’ ideas can be – easy to kill early no matter what their potential? I appreciate your ideas on this.

  5. Brad Shorr says:

    Fred, in my experience, orchestrating a “court of innovation” (great term!) is counterproductive because more time is spend on internecine warfare than on fighting the competition. A formal process might be helpful, especially in terms of getting buy-in from the many employees who may not have much to contribute but want to feel included. What you don’t want is a “muttering majority” of employees who trash new ideas at the water cooler simply because they feel left out or understand 10% of what’s going on.

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..The Perfection of Marketing, by James Connor – A Book Review

  6. Brad, So true. I’ve wondered when that kind of warfare breaks out if it is a signal that leadership is unfocused or weak in some way. It is almost always counterproductive because decisions get made based on personal power rather than with a real ear for the strategic future of a company.

    I’m always torn on formalizing things, especially around ‘creativity’ – I tend to be more free-wheeling myself, but the “muttering majority” (or even minority) usually don’t realize the damage they are doing. Often, in their heart of hearts, I think they believe they are adding productive insights no matter how wrong headed that is. However, slow-build buy-in among various political groups can be very effective for changes that are far reaching. Many leaders know this instinctively, but ideas come from everywhere and can often be lost before they reach the attention of the right visionary leader.

    Your thinking on this really deserves a post. Welcome to use my podium if you feel like it.

  7. Brad Shorr says:

    Hi Fred, Thanks for the offer. I’ll have to give the topic some thought – it sure is interesting. Your posts always get me thinking.

    Brad Shorr’s last blog post..The Perfection of Marketing, by James Connor – A Book Review

  8. Bill Welter says:

    Fred and Brad,
    The post was interesting, and the back-and-forth vollying of ideas even more so. Porter (the Harvard guru) writes of “doing different things or doing things differently” as a fundamental description of strategy. That would lend credence to free-wheeling innovation. However, he also writes about using “different” to gain competitive advantage. That gives credence to some oversight.
    So, given the need for “freedom within a framework” I hereby declare both of you winners.
    Cheers, Bill

  9. Hi Bill, Great way to book-mark a discussion where answers are not clear cut. The topic deserves continued thought as Brad says. Kind of makes the point that encouraging discussion that looks at concepts from many directions can help move an idea along. And in the end, someone does have to be in charge of the kindergarten to make sure we come in from recess on time 🙂

    I love the ‘doing different things or doing things differently’ thought. Helps shoot down business plans that aim to simply be ‘better’ than the competition. Different is almost always easier to communicate in a believable way than ‘better.’ (And for the most part if you aren’t different, how can you be better?) I wonder if that concept of different has to be driven from above or if it can percolate up in a creative organization?

  10. Thanks Brad. I do enjoy the back and forth.

  11. Bill Welter says:

    Fred, Your question about the top down versus bottom up was a big topic of conversation at my workshop yesterday. Our conclusion was that “experiments” within the organization get discovered and then become official. But it does seem to start with the people closest to the action. Bill

  12. Bill – “Experiments within the organization” is a nice concept. Amazing how the shackles can come off when you are officially ‘experimenting.’

  13. J.D. Meier says:

    I like that – “managing is more than counting.”

    One thing that helps me get more complete thinking but avoid killing an idea is the Six Thinking Hats. I think of it as a pie with multiple slices. Each hat helps you see another perspective (opportunity, flaw, facts/figures, feelings … etc.)

    J.D. Meier’s last blog post..The Quest for Personal Power

  14. Andrew says:


    You have a very interesting and dynamic conversation going on here, and I certainly look forward to reading what Brad has to say if he has the chance to prepare the discussion referred to above.

    Having worked as a professional accountant, I can certainly empathize with the example which you give in your post. Indeed, whilst there are certainly some within the accounting profession who adopt an innovative approach in the way they go about their duties, as a whole, accountants do not tend to be naturally given to an embracing approach toward creativity and new ideas.

    I think that there is a case for due diligence prior to the implementation of new ideas, and indeed, if it is managed effectively, the due diligence process can serve as useful tool to increase the likelihood of success in the implementation of good ideas by the process of identifying potential pitfalls associated with the idea and working out proactive strategies to either prevent or mitigate these pitfalls.

    Due diligence should be used as an idea planner and analyzer, not as an idea killer.

    Andrew’s last blog post..Why do real estate and used car sales attract crooks?

  15. J.D. – Neat idea. Do you use the 6 Thinking Hats idea as a personal prompt or have you tried it in meetings? Seems like it would be a great visual in a strategy session. Thank you for adding to the discussion!

  16. Hi Andrew, I have the highest respect for the accounting and finance functions in an organization – if those operations aren’t running well and honestly a company is heading into rough waters no mater how innovative it might want to believe it is. I guess I see the discussion that plays out between different departments and personalities almost like a dance – with appropriate arguments taking the lead in just the right measure. The finance function becomes more critical with the size and scope of the innovation. (The history of marketing is strewn with ideas that weren’t financially or operationally vetted well enough — most recently the tie-in between KFC and Oprah seems to caused some trouble.) There also may be a strategic reason to pursue a financially dicey project, which is fine, as long as everybody has their eyes wide open to the repercussions.

    Many times I think what happens in these types of discussions is the same as in regular life – people listen past each other, are misunderstood or even have conflicting objectives within an organization. If we can manage those difficulties then bring on the Due Diligence! As you say, it will strengthen strong concepts.

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