Stop Innovating!

Businessman standing and holding a stop sign in front of his head

I’m serious. Stop innovating right this second. Most of what passes for innovation these days is like teaching a pig to sing — it doesn’t work, and it annoys the pig.

A few days ago, I shared a glass of wine with a friend who works at a large company. He said they were all excited about their upcoming innovation workshop. He said the one last year had worked so well, everyone wanted to do it again. I asked if any of the ideas from last year’s workshop were implemented. He said no. Why not, I suggested, just take the winners from last year and try to actually do them? He couldn’t get any support for that. But everyone wanted to do the brainstorming exercises again.

Your corporate culture is where innovation goes to die.

Once the fun and games are over, it’s back to business as usual. Meetings tend to run on, they have to end at some point, and it’s time to make a decision. That’s when the easiest, most incremental thing gets the green light and all the cool ideas get filed away for later. It’s easier and more fun to do workshops than to actually innovate because innovation involves risk, and the culture doesn’t support taking risks.

Do you think they have “innovation days” at Google, GoPro, and Netflix? At these companies, every day is innovation day! At Google, everyone gets 20% time to do whatever he/she wants. As it turns out, few people there really do experiments and try something new. The vast majority of Google people use that time to support and launch those projects that have worked and need help. Most of Google’s new products and features come from this kind of tinkering and in-house organic hustle. They don’t come from planning or innovation days.

In different ways, creating an innovation culture are what lean and agile are all about. You must change the culture if you are going to get out of the innovation trap.

Yes, I said it: the C word. No one wants to go near culture. It’s the beast that eats people who try to change it. But if a 30,000 person company can change their culture from command-and-control to servant leadership in five years, and if a nuclear submarine captain can do it, it’s not impossible for your company. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, there’s a 150-person company where people love to work, they leave promptly at 6pm each evening, they have kids and animals in the office all day long, they have no management, no human resources, they work in pairs, everyone cross-trains to do everyone else’s job, there are no heroes, and they always deliver what they say they will by the time they say it will be done. Sound like your company? If not, you may want to read Joy, Inc., by Richard Sheridan.

You may also want to read the amazing Valve Company Handbook. Oh, and the Hubspot Culture Code. And about how General Electric did it in Rahleigh Durham. As Gary Hamel says, don’t innovate, build an innovation platform. In fact, you may just want to invest 20 minutes in reading The Culture Deck, my attempt to gather all these amazing stories in one convenient place for you to share with your colleagues and learn. There are a thousand ways to do it, and a million excuses not to, but innovation can be at the heart of your company’s culture, not part of it. So stop the insanity. Get off the innovation drip. Get a lean/agile attitude that makes everyday innovation day.

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David SiegelDavid Siegel is an expert in corporate transformation, coaching, culture change, incremental innovation, leadership, talent transformation, loyalty and trust, agility, strategy, communication, process, learning, and engagement. Founder/CEO of a 25-person digital agency, management and strategy consultant to Fortune-1000; 30 years of business experience and coaching. Thought leader and author of 5 books.  Learn more at

David Siegel




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