innovation: the classic traps

Before starting, the team members were invited to read a number of books and articles:

In Innovation: The Classic Traps, Rosabeth Moss Kanter says that, after the dot-com crash, companies have focused on organic growth again. She concludes, however, that they shouldn’t listen to current customers because it can inhibit ‘breakthrough’ innovation. Her classic traps include:

Setting the hurdles too high or making the scope too narrow – not a problem for the Red Stripe team who had almost no constraints imposed on them.

Making controls too tight – requiring innovations to meet conventional, commercial criteria. You could argue this one either way with Red Stripe. In the end, they were challenged by the GMC and their expert advisers on commercial grounds. They needn’t have been if they had just ‘gone for it’, as they were allowed to do by their brief, but sooner or later they would have had to face the commercial music.

Leadership too weak and communication too poor – these are traps for the organisation as a whole as much as for the innovation team. But Kanter adds that ‘top managers frequently put the best technical people in charge, not the best leaders’. These people ‘emphasise tasks over relationships.’ I’ll discuss this in relation to Gerard Fairtlough’s assertion that leadership is a task. But managing relationships within the team is also a task. I talked to Joanna about this and she told me that she ‘would have been more involved in discussing interpersonal issues openly… would have felt better about it if obvious permission had been given’, even though she agreed that the team as a whole had given themselves permission to do that.

Closed environments – Kanter maintains that ‘by failing to tap others’ ideas, [teams produce] lackluster recommendations; and by failing to keep peers informed, they [miss] getting buy-in…’. Neither was a problem for Red Stripe. But, in accepting Mike’s conclusion that they perhaps went to the GMC too soon, and thus found themselves changing tack in response to the committee’s objections, it’s worth remembering Kanter’s opposite warning that teams which work in secret and then present their ideas fully formed at the end may ‘face unexpected objections that sometimes kill the project.’


Loosen controls… but not all of them and not too far.

Look outside for the best ideas and share them early to get buy-in and avoid last-minute resistance, says Rosabeth Moss Kanter. But for the Project Red Stripe team, who did both assiduously, one lesson was perhaps that they looked outside too long and shared too early.

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