Ten Rules for Stifling Innovation

In the summer, professors get to read books they’re too busy to look at during the semester.  I’m now reading a classic 1983 book on business innovation: The Change Masters, by Rosabeth Moss Kanter.  It’s amazing that she gets everything right; her key points are in best-selling management books being published today.  (See my June 9th posting “How long will it take?” for another story about how long we’ve known how innovation really works.)

Kanter analyzed six companies in depth; four of them were innovators and two were not. Somewhat tongue in cheek, Kanter proposed a list of ten “hidden messages” that the non-innovating companies sent their employees every day, writing “Imagine something like this hanging on an executive’s wall, right next to the corporate philosophy”:

1. Regard any new idea from below with suspicion-because
it’s new, and because it’s from below.
2. Insist that people who need your approval to act first go
through several other levels of management to get their signatures.
3. Ask departments or individuals to challenge and criticize
each other’s proposals. (That saves you the job of deciding;
you just pick the survivor.)
4. Express your criticisms freely, and withhold your praise.
(That keeps people on their toes.) Let them know they can
be fired at any time.
5. Treat identification of problems as signs of failure, to discourage
people from letting you know when something in
their area isn’t working.
6. Control everything carefully. Make sure people count anything
that can be counted, frequently.
7. Make decisions to reorganize or change policies in secret,
and spring them on people unexpectedly. (That also keeps
people on their toes.)
8. Make sure that requests for information are fully justified,
and make sure that it is not given out to managers freely.
(You don’t want data to fall into the wrong hands.)
9. Assign to lower-level managers, in the name of delegation
and participation, responsibility for figuring out how to cut
back, layoff, move people around, or otherwise implement
threatening decisions you have made. And get them to do it
10. And above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already
know everything important about this business.