Enhance Productivity and Efficiency with Stephen’s Innovation Insights

Innovation Insights by Stephen Shapiro

Here’s the transcription of my ABC News interview posted on my blog yesterday…

Tory Johnson: Best practices are supposed to help your business be more efficient, but our guest today says that your company guidelines could be wasting your time and stifling your growth. Stephen Shapiro is the author of “Best Practices are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition.” All right, Stephen, so you are stomping on conventional wisdom here, right?

Stephen Shapiro:  Trying a little bit, yes.

Tory: Trying a little bit, okay. Well, you certainly are with this. Your first point is stop asking for ideas. Why?

Stephen: Well, as you know, everybody has an opinion or suggestion. The problem is if you’re trying to innovate and you ask for everybody’s opinion, you end up with a lot of noise like BP did (with the oilrig explosion). 123,000 ideas on ways to stop the oil flow. Only 12 proved to be slightly useful. That’s a lot of wasted time and energy.

Tory: But how do you know which 12 are going to be great? Why not ask everybody and sort of see what you get? What happens when you don’t ask?

Stephen: What you really need to do is take the time to frame something that’s going to be solvable. If BP were to do this over, I would have them actually step back and say, “Well, what are the components and aspects of the problem?” Then we can deconstruct and ask for specific solutions. Something very broad and fluffy tends to lead to a lot of fluffiness, which leads to a lot of wasted time.

Tory: So, if you’re a boss, you don’t just say, “Give me your ideas.” But you want to instead channel everybody. “Give me ideas around these particular parameters,” in order to get the best ideas.

Stephen: Absolutely. You get fewer ideas, but you get higher percentage of solutions that are implementable.

Tory: Okay. So this one everybody, I think, is guilty of. You say it is a dad idea to think outside the box.

Stephen: Yes. We say think outside the box, but in fact what we find is that when we create unbounded situations, there’s actually lower levels of creativity, partly because we create more noise. So if we define a good challenge, we can get people to rally. Imagine if I gave you a blank sheet of paper and asked you to come up with some ideas, you’re going to be stuck.

Tory: Doodling, right?

Stephen: Right. But if I actually gave you some structure, you will now be able to develop things more quickly. So giving people some structure actually enhances innovation.

Tory: So that goes hand in hand with the kind of ideas you ask for. Think of the ideas within this particular box.

Stephen: Absolutely. You don’t want to think outside the box, you want to define a better box. Or as Einstein said, “If I had an hour to save the world, I’d spend 59 minutes defining the problem and only 1 minute finding the solution.

Tory: All right, fair enough. Next you say, “Hire people you don’t like.” Again, totally against conventional wisdom.

Stephen: Well, think about how we recruit. We hire people who fit the mold.

Tory: Right.

Stephen: So, what ends up happening is that we hire a lot of people who are very similar. The word “culture” is actually related to the word “cult,” which means you have everybody who thinks the same way, acts the same way, talks the same way. Divergence is needed for innovation.

Tory: But what about the idea that we have to like the people that we work with? We work so many hours so closely with other people. Don’t we have to like the people that we work with? Do you say, “Too bad”?

Stephen: Well, I’m a little tongue-in-cheek in terms of saying hiring people you don’t like. You want to hire people who aren’t like you. Here’s the reality though, people who aren’t like you will often annoy you. I’m a creative, wild person. Very analytical or very logical planning-oriented people drive me crazy. I know they add the most value to me though.

Tory: Got it. Okay. So it’s really about understanding the needs of that particular position versus everybody who has the exact same skill set, exact same way of thinking. Diversify in that area. It creates a better team.

Stephen: Exactly. Appreciate what they bring to the table.

Tory: All right. This one is going to drive a lot of people crazy, but you say, “Stop recognizing people for just doing their job.”

Stephen: In organizations, if we want to create innovation and we want to create change. If we only recognize people for what they’re hired to do, we’re reinforcing the status quo. Instead of praising somebody for doing what they’re supposed to do, praise them for taking a risk. If they always work with their team, praise them for going externally and partnering with someone they might not, or trying something that they wouldn’t normally do. That does not allow you to reinforce the status quo. It actually allows you to reinforce the new values and new perspectives.

Tory: And what about the people who say, “You know what? I need some feedback. I enjoy a good pat on the back for just doing my job.” Just sort of not always going the extra mile, but there’s something to be said for someone who’s just kind of rock solid, does their job. Not too many pats on the back?

Stephen: Well, there’s a difference between a private pat on the back and a public pat on the back.

Tory: Okay.

Stephen: So what we want to do is make sure we’re recognizing people who took the risk and did something different publicly. That creates massive change inside the organization. Of course we want to praise people for doing a good job.

Tory: Got it. So you’re not saying forget about just doing a good job but different types of praise, different types of promotion.

Stephen: Exactly.

Tory:  Okay. And finally you say, “Expertise is the enemy of innovation.” Why is that?

Stephen: If you look at almost every single major breakthrough, they were rarely solved by somebody in the domain of expertise in which the problem was framed. Expertise limits your peripheral vision and has you focus on solutions that are in your knowledge base. But a lot of the breakthroughs actually come from different disciplines or multidisciplinary teams. It’s that combination . . .

Tory: So give me an example.

Stephen: A very simple example. A toothpaste manufacturer wanted to create a whitening toothpaste. They had the toothpaste experts working on it. What they realized was a breakthrough already existed in their laundry detergent division. Because they put bluing agents, a blue dye inside their laundry detergent, they put it inside the toothpaste, and it instantly created an instant whitening toothpaste. So you need to look to someone else who has solved your problem in a different discipline or in a different area.

Tory: Got it. So that really speaks to sort of everything about not hiring like-minded people, diversifying the efforts, really defining what the problems are so that you bring together the best minds to be able to create the best solutions.

Stephen:  Absolutely. Innovation is about appreciating and bringing together divergent points of view.

Tory:  All right. Well, there’s so much more in the book. Thanks so much for being here Stephen. Once again, his book is called “Best Practices are Stupid:  40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition.”

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