Beware Best Practices for Innovation

Don't ask people to 'think outside the box.'

The "old models of innovation are broken, are inefficient and fail to produce results," argues Stephen Shapiro, an innovation expert who honed his views during a 15-year career at Accenture. In his book, "Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition," Shapiro offers a number of counterintuitive ideas for fostering innovation in companies. He warns that too many companies focus on generating lots of ideas in an innovation pipeline and end up spending too much time trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. In his book, Shapiro includes the following precepts:

  • Stop asking for ideas. Oftentimes, ideas submitted tend to be impractical, of low value and end up creating an overwhelming amount of unproductive clutter in the system.
  • Don't ask people to "think outside the box." Instead, give innovators a "better box." Provide well-defined challenges that will guide their efforts.
  • Hire people you don't like. Organizations typically hire people who "fit the mold," but innovation is predicated on divergent points of view coming together.
  • Stop recognizing people for doing their job. When you recognize people for doing what they are hired to do, it reinforces a culture where the status quo is good enough. Instead, recognize people for going beyond their duties and doing things that are unexpected.
  • Expertise is the enemy of innovation. The more you know about a particular topic, the more difficult it is for you to think about it in a different way. Bring people together from a wide range of disciplines, backgrounds and experiences to uncover innovative solutions.
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