Chapter 1

Rethink Innovation

Eradicate Lore, Substitute Logic

When it comes time to innovate, even executives who deeply appreciate the discipline that modern management science has produced in finance, marketing, or logistics seem willing to tolerate all sorts of nonsense.

Too often, innovation is reduced to a series of brainstorming sessions, where facilitators proclaim things like, “Hey, there’s no such thing as a bad idea!” (Actually, there really is such a thing as an indisputably bad idea.) Or innovation may be separated from the rest of the enterprise in a special lab or unit, a thin effort to quarantine the crazies. There, we feel like it’s only proper to crank up the creativity. We put people in a room, festoon the tables with toys, Nerf balls and guns, Post-it Notes, markers, and fun foods—all because innovation is supposed to be playful. Our use of sticky notes and black Sharpie markers has become almost fetishistic,1 one of the many rituals in our collective cult of innovation.

Here’s the problem—evidence shows that such techniques do not actually lead to better outcomes. A number of years ago, we researched innovation efforts in industries such as manufacturing and services. A full 95% of these efforts failed. A glance around at the state of contemporary innovation suggests we’ve gotten a little better, but still do plenty of things that are more grounded in hope or habit than evidence. This is unacceptable. We are overdue for a revolution in the way innovation is ...

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