Five Types of Innovation Snake Oil Consultants

Bad Advice Is Worse Than No Advice

by Idris Mootee

Five Types of Innovation Snake Oil ConsultantsYou’ve probably come across many self-claimed innovation experts in the past and it seems like anyone who has a different way of saying or doing something is calling themselves one. So many dumb things I’ve heard these people said about innovation. Some are snake oil consultants promising to help clients to innovate and to organize a company for innovation. There are some selling to clients how to be creative I’ve heard people promising clients that they can improve innovation success rate from 4% to 80%! 80% wow, if that’s the case, this consultancy should worth a few billions at least. Google would have bought them already!

And then there’s talk about what type of people are best suited to be innovators. What kinds of archetype that represent the best quality of an innovator. This is so BS, innovators come in all sizes and shapes. I’ve come across many big ideas people who were trained in finance, economics, accountancy, legal, operations and engineering… and I’ve also met many working in the creative industries with zero ability to come up with big (medium or small) ideas although they dress creatively (that’s a matter of taste).

Here are five types of ‘fake’ innovation experts:

  1. Mr/Ms Easily Happy – their bar is set so low and called anything new an innovation including a different color bottle cap or a new packaging. They can’t tell the difference between incremental innovations, radical innovation and design improvements and focus on the novelty value of cute things. But they are a happy camp and innovation is just a little more creativity for them.
  2. Mr/Ms Let’s Change-The-World – these are the people who wanted to change the world but have no ideas of how to start. So they come up slogans such as “sea change” and talked publicly about how the word needed change but have no idea of the what and how. Real innovators are change agents and know what is needed to be done and how to mobilize. These are modern day hippies. Change is too much for them to handle.
  3. Mr/Ms Zero Clue – These people capitalize on the emerging interest of innovation and probably read every single magazine article on the subject and possibly a few bad books. Or even written one. Their messages were usually “let a thousand flowers bloom” or “change the game by doing something different”. Right. They never talked about the very core idea of ‘value’ and how to redefine them. They throw out words such as “collaboration”. “openness” or “listening”. They are afraid to say more because they don’t know more.
  4. Mr/Ms More-Focus-Groups – These are focus groups addicts that believe customers know what they want. Do they? Well, focus groups are effective in testing positioning, slogans and brand perceptions etc. But it is exactly the wrong tool for innovation. Customer doesn’t know what they don’t know? Imagine Apple asking them what do you think of an iTouch Jumbo that has a bigger screen? Apple is a company that systematically ignores their customers in the design process.
  5. Mr/Ms Toolbox – These are people who love to convince you how using a particular tool (creative tool or online tools etc.) can help you magically improve your innovation results or come up with the next big ideas. I think tools are important but it is one component. The human behavior aspect of the team is also important. The right leadership is also important. The right incentive system is also important and there are another 15 things. Tools are no more important that those and there should not be over reliance on them.

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Idris MooteeIdris Mootee is the CEO of idea couture, a strategic innovation and experience design firm. He is the author of four books, tens of published articles, and a frequent speaker at business conferences and executive retreats.

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Idris Mootee




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No Comments

  1. ed bernacki on July 8, 2010 at 10:10 am

    I really like….Mr/Ms Zero Clue.
    I have noticed the number of speakers and consultants who are “new” experts. I judge them based on their references to companies like 3M, Nokia, Google or Ideo. I hear lots of stories which these people have read in the media — they have not worked with this companies. Everyone knows that 3M gives their staff 15% of their time to explore ideas. Is this, in fact, true? No one can confirm it as they do not know anyone who works for the company.

  2. Doug on July 8, 2010 at 10:49 am

    So, I’m wondering into which category Mr. Mootee places himself?

  3. Dave Meyer on July 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm

    I agree that one must be prepared to know the difference between a proven innovation consultant and a so called snake oil innovator. I also appreciate the reference to using examples of companies like Nokia and Apple to make the point about the disruptive nature of innovation. But this article might have been more effective if you also offered suggestions about how to go about innovating and avoiding the pitfalls that you described. Perhaps a follow up to this post? Thanks for sharing

    Dave Meyer (@DRMeyer1)

  4. Kathryn on July 8, 2010 at 1:42 pm

    This post is simplistic in the extreme and unfortunately shows no real insight into innovation or the innovation process. Taking cheap shots and being a cynical critic is easy. It does not thereby establish you as an expert!

    I look forward to your next post where you can actually add value and not simply tear down others in a sophomoric analysis.

  5. Ken on July 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm

    Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black and a bunch of sour grapes.

  6. Cynthia on July 9, 2010 at 11:42 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with Doug’s, Dave’s, Kathyrn’s, and Ken’s comments.

    Perhaps we should start of list of the types that do create, evoke, develop, promote, and achieve innovation. I daresay that each and every one of the five types identified in this article do play a part is pushing the innovation ball up the hill.

    Here’s a start:

    Ms/Mr Can-Do
    You know the type, those that inspite of naysayers, political naneuvering, name-calling, are determined, dedicated, smart, thinkers that perform a myriad of Herculean (and sometimes not so Herculean) tasks that inspire and/or achieve incremental, disruptive, and radical innovations.

    These folks are the positive cheerleaders (yup–cheerleaders) that provide inspiration to people and groups that have their heads down working for hours to create, test, develop that “next innovation.”

    They are the toolmakers and the tool users as they use tried and true tools as prescribed as well as in novel ways to create innovations.

    And, many of them do have a “zero clue” and that is a plus as they don’t know that what they ultimately end up succeeding at was suppose to have “failed.”

    They wisely use customer and consumer input, coupled with market dynamics and the innovative vision that can and does connect the dots to create innovations.

    And, most importantly, they are inclusive collaborators that share their talents as they know it takes a community (idea generator(s), developers, champions, finance, marketers, leadership, management, and more) to effectuate positive innovative change.

  7. Hania Whitfield on July 11, 2010 at 9:43 am


    It was wonderful to see someone speak on this as I see this all the time. BUT, no one has spoken to the fact that outside consultants can only get away with what the leaders who hire them allow.

    If I had my own company, I darn well would do my research and talk to other clients who had hired these consultants before I would let them touch a hair on my company’s head. The responsibility lies with those who hire these consultants. Just as you would think twice about the product you carry and how it would perform for your customers, the same should apply to those you hire.

    The common problem with these “fake innovation experts” is that they are such talented “sales people” that they lure leaders into a magic cure for all the company’s ails – esp if the company is lagging.

    But the weakness and responsibility still lies with the leaders since most problems in a company lie within, and outside consultants can’t learn about internal problems enough to help cure those unknown internal factors.

    Leaders who hire consultant after consultant are usually either unwilling to take a hard look at their own mistakes or are oblivious to them. Therefore, they look to outsiders to come in with the “innovative” approach to justify seeking outside help.

    Unfortunately, too often, these outside consultants are just a band-aid for a much more serious wound deep inside…

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