Learning What to Stop Doing in the New Year

by Adi Gaskell

bad-ideasThe start of any new year is often a time for reflection, both from an individual and organizational perspective.  We examine our lives and try and figure out things we want to do better.  We aspire and strive, set ourselves challenges and goals that will make us better.

Usually these are additive.  We strive to exercise more, or be more innovative.  Of course, we all know that most of these change efforts fail.  Whether we’re trying to change ourselves or our organizations, the majority of the time things won’t work out.

As 2017 swings into gear therefore, I’d like to propose a slightly different approach.  Rather than looking at what we need to do in 2017, I’d like to propose we look at the things we need to stop doing (and thinking) in the coming year.

Ideas that must die

It’s a concept that was provoked by a book pulled together by The Edge Foundation that I read over the Christmas break.  This Idea Must Die is an anthology of leading scientists and thinkers, each of whom provide a single idea that they think is blocking progress in their particular field.

From physics to psychology, computing to mathematics, the book contains thoughts from some of the leading thinkers of our age.  They each rile against an idea that has come to contain outsized importance in their field, and which must be destroyed for our minds to be free enough to explore afresh.

It’s an approach that leading innovation thinker VJ Govindarajan talks about extensively in his three boxes approach to innovation.  Indeed, a whole box is devoted to forgetting the past (the other two are the more traditional business as usual and radical experimentation).

It’s the kind of process that many of the famous case studies of organizations that have failed to move with the time include in vivid detail.  Think of Kodak, who couldn’t kill of the idea that photos were film based, or Blockbuster, who couldn’t kill off their concept of film rentals.

Forgetting the past

It’s the kind of habits and behaviors that have become deeply entrenched in your life that could really do with being kicked into the long grass.  Removing these mental barriers is often a crucial first step towards creating new ways of thinking and behaving, so whilst it can appear counter-intuitive to begin innovating by stopping doing something, it is actually a crucial first step.

To help you assess your own propensity to stifle innovation by being too wedded to the present, Govindarajan has produced a simple test.  All you need to do is answer the following questions using a 5 point scale, with 1 representing ‘strongly disagree’, and 5 representing ‘strongly agree’.

  • We usually promote from within
  • Our culture is homogeneous
  • We have a strong culture
  • Employees typically stick around a long time
  • Hiring from the outside is usually limited to entry-level positions
  • When people are recruited from outside, we have strong methods to indoctrinate them into our culture
  • Our track record of success is a long one
  • We strongly believe that you shouldn’t mess with a successful formula
  • The senior management team have been around a long time
  • They have also worked primarily in our industry
  • The management team seldom has those from outside recruited into it
  • Meeting short-term financial goals tends to drive performance

If you score higher than 36 on this simple test, then you have a major challenge in ‘forgetting’ well enough to be able to innovate.

The new year is usually a good prod to help you do things a little bit differently, whether personally or organizationally.  Maybe this post will help you shift that process a little towards thinking of the things you need to stop doing.

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Adi-Gaskell-150x150Adi Gaskell tells us: “I am a free range human who believes that the future already exists if we know where to look. From the bustling Knowledge Quarter in London, it is my mission in life to hunt down those things and bring them to a wider audience, with my posts here focusing particularly on the latest research on innovation and change.” Follow Adi @adigaskell

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