Innovate or Die – Tactics #1-16 of 110

by Tom Peters

Innovate or DieRecession or no recession, deep recession or not, the challenge to add more and more value grows, and the importance of innovation, and a culture of innovation, grows exponentially. A “culture of innovation” covers “everything.” There is no halfway. There, of course, are “first principles.” Or are there? I started a list of “stuff” that’s imperative to creating an innovative enterprise. The list of 10 or so grew to 25, then 45, and at the moment includes no less than 110 “tactics.” Of course you can’t do all of them. Or must you? Well, you can’t do all 110, or maybe even half that number, but the absence of any one or two or three or six weakens and perhaps even imperils the entire structure. Use what follows as you will.

Trying Stuff. Screwing Stuff Up. Fast.

  1. Tries. Darwin rules. More stuff goin’ on, more interesting-good stuff happenin’. Innovation is to a large extent a “numbers game”: He-she who tries the most stuff wins. (Astonishingly true.)
  2. Culture of “Try it! Now!” Culture! Culture! Attitude! Attitude! Mindset! Mindset! “The way we do things around here.” “Around here, we try things first, fix ’em fast, try again, talk about it later, when we’ve got something to talk about.”
  3. Philosophy/F.A. Hayek/”spontaneous discovery process.” Firm as market economy. New stuff emerges “spontaneously” from lots of trials and lots of errors. The innovator’s life is life on the run, zigging here and zagging there – but always hustling.
  4. Failures encouraged/celebrated/cherished. Failure is the key to success. Period. Fast failure is the key to fast success. And so on. This must be “cultural” to the core.
  5. Transparency. All info on all these tries and cock-ups available to all to inspire, to chew over, to add to, to attract adherents and champions, etc.
  6. Connection/Ubiquitous. No barriers! Across-the-wall communication is as normal as breathing!
  7. MBWA/Managing By Wandering Around. An informal, in touch, high-camaraderie, on the move atmosphere underlies the “try it”-“screw it up”-“learn from it”-“fast” “culture.”
  8. Fail to share yields “death penalty.” Sharing-transparency are the innovation organization’s lubricant; therefore those who hoard must get the boot.
  9. Fast prototyping/Serious play. Prototyping skills-attitude are more central than almost anyone can imagine. Entire organization as “playpen” with “playmates” gathering spontaneously to try stuff. Quickly. Quickly.
  10. Tempo/OODA Loop mastery/RFA. “Ready. Fire. Aim.” is the premier cultural trait. Try it-learn from it-try it again-spread the news-recruit adherents-etc. The organization has a high metabolic rate (“metabolic management”), a rapid tempo. The Observe-Orient-Decide-Act cycle, invented by military strategist John Boyd, is quick and the quickness per se confuses one’s competitors.
  11. FFFF/Find a Fellow Freak Faraway/”The Sri Lanka Strategy.” Try cool-scary-risky stuff out in the boondocks, well away from HQ and typical HQ stuffiness. Find a playmate in “Sri Lanka” ready to give your idea a whirl; eventually, the network of Champions-from-the-boondocks become the premier carriers of the innovation.
  12. Demos/Heroes/Stories. Tries and screw-ups and sagas of bold champions become the “stories” that animate the organization – and induce everyone to climb aboard, play with vigor, or lose out.
  13. Social Networks. The emerging social networking tools become the accelerator for the process described and implied in these first dozen ideas. Nothing automatic about this – must be thought through, overseen (but also loose-as-a-goose, not judgmental). Emergent leadership from hither, thither, and yon becomes the de facto “leadership for innovation” in the organization.

Discipline. Accountability. Execution.

  1. Department of Sanity/”Dreamers with Deadlines”/Fiscal responsibility/Budget skills. Warren Bennis called hot groups of innovators “dreamers with deadlines.” Innovation is not pie-in-the-sky, “let’s all have a blast, yo my man, cool, eh?” in nature. There is a compelling and disciplined “execution” thread that is central to the innovating organization. The innovating organization is focused on “new stuff,” “cool stuff” – but is pragmatic to a fault. The project “budget and milestones guru” is as honored as the true believer-dreamer-champion.
  2. Department of Sanity/Accountability. Screwing up, for instance, is essential to innovating. But there is as much accountability around screwing up as there is around inventory management in a traditional outfit; that is, the innovator takes responsibility for the screw-up and for insuring rapid learning and dissemination of lessons learned and for mounting the follow-up experiment posthaste.
  3. Department of Sanity/Implementation training. Execution and Implementation are paramount skills, highly rewarded and cherished. Bunkmates to the end.


Tom PetersTom Peters is the author of “In Search of Excellence” and twelve other international bestsellers, and a consultant, columnist, seminar lecturer, and more at the Tom Peters Company

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