Do Innovation Consultants Kill Innovation? Oh please…

An example of "non-structured" film industry innovation?

I get letters.

A colleague of mine, Lisa Baxter, alerted me to an article recently published in Fast Company’s online Design section. The article, titled “Do Innovation Consultants Kill Innovation?” suggests that in fact, innovation consultants do indeed kill innovation. Authors Jens Martin Skibsted and Rasmus Bech Hansen argue that innovation is too messy to be captured in any process. So how can big firms innovate?

I could write 5000 words in response to the article, but let me keep it simple: BS.

In their defense I would agree that an over emphasis on process is often a failing of an average innovation consultant — and even those very high priced firms who do innovation consulting. I also resonate with the underlying message of the article, which is essentially, “it’s about culture.” Yes, it should indeed be part of the company DNA, and, yes, it is difficult to change that. I’ll even go so far as to say that sometimes process inhibits innovation; because it’s too slow, poorly managed, or overly cumbersome. That’s one reason why KILN has designed a faster “flywheel” style front-end of innovation process (it’s called “FuseTrail).

But the problem they identify is not going to be solved simply by having a gun-slinging, single focused entrepreneur at the helm, or by hiring a highly creative team. Nor is it fair to single out innovation consultants as the culprits.

We innovation consultants usually get called into a situation that is already a mess, or is simply not working. Everybody thinks they can innovate — until they can’t. 95% of the time, a consultant, like myself, gets a call when the boar is already tits up. Oh, and incidentally, about 98% of the time, those who call us don’t have any process.

And yes, the team matters, they have to be good — but great teams can and do fail without good process and smart leadership (think the USA losing Olympics basketball). Like many, you guys define creativity as something that can’t be structured, and in fact, it can. I’d say further that allowing for mess and non-linear activity within a process is actually Part of an Effective Structure and Process.

I also find it interesting that they cite as an example the movie industry. In reality, the film industry has highly defined creative/innovative processes. They may look organic from an outsiders perspective, but trust me, the structure is there. The film industry has a system for content identification, for script development, for production on-set and in animation labs, and for testing films in focus groups. I’d call that deliberate process.

Deliberate creative process enhances creativity, it doesn’t stymie it.

And people, deliberate process does not kill innovation. In the right culture, an awareness of process is a good starting point. Highly deliberate and structured processes are not only effective — they are necessary. Without process innovation is left to chance, and personally, I wouldn’t want to take that chance with my company, nor my clients.

So Jens and Rasmus, I love ya, but enough already with the provocative titles, and let’s agree (or not) that it’s mostly about the culture. And I’d simply suggest there is more than one way to instill innovation culture. Now, maybe it’s time for me to write the article “Do Brand Consultants Kill Brands?”

    • tim


      I mentioned to Newell Eaton today that when an article hits the presses that raises a controversy in our metier, its your blog I look to for cogent thinking on the mess. Thanks for that, and for not being overly jingoistic to the home team.


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    • T —

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I try to be balanced in these things. I suppose I sort of “take the bait” when one of these provocative pieces come out, but at the end of the day, it serves me as well. Hoping all is good on your end..


    • This post got me thinking a lot… I wonder, if it applies to the Agile process, where the change agent/scrum master is the very person blocking the change or messing up team collaboration/communication efforts in order to make a project work and deliver results.

      • A credential in a methodology like Six Sigma or Agile or Lean doesn’t mean that person has the people skills to implement it effectively. So, sure they could definitely be blocking collaboration. Thanks for your comment Shaleen.

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