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007 // The Innovation Saboteur’s Handbook

Image with text. Text reads: Ideas from Dawan for people who think and solve like a designer.

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You’re a nice person. You mean well most of the time, but you’re only human. You have urges, impulses, and needs. Not all of them are pretty, but that’s natural.

When we’re trying to create something new, we all get a little twitchy, right? A little voice starts whispering, “Wouldn’t it be nice to find a way out of this? Wouldn’t it be great if this project blew up? If this goes horribly wrong, you could go back to your nice calm routine, right?” 

My little voice says that little voices are always right. If someone has to be the bad guy, why not make sure it gets done right. Nobody likes a sloppy saboteur. Here’s how to make good innovation projects go boom.

Focus Everywhere — Don’t define the problem you’re trying to solve

Just dive in without creating a clear written question that focuses your work. If you develop a question like, “How might we create a better way to create solutions with our customers?” or, “How might we help people learn skills that improve personal and organizational performance?” you and your team will be coordinating your actions and intentions from the start. No saboteur wants that. You’ll avoid too much of the confusion and conflict you need if you want to wreck things early.

Carve It In Stone — Make sure your initial problem definition doesn’t change.

When you learn something that suggests you need to update how you’ve defined the problem you’re trying to solve, ignoring what you learned is a great way to do some damage. Sticking to your first definition of the problem will keep it from becoming more accurate. You may not stop the innovation project, but you can use the carve-it-in-stone method to send the project down a path toward solving the wrong problem.

Trust Pride — Be too smart for research.

I don’t even need to tell you about this one. You’re so smart, you already know. You might have a fancy title, tons of experience, and maybe even a few degrees. Research is for people who lack the fortitude to go with their gut: weak gut goers. You know what’s best without qualitative research this and quantitative research that. Let your pride be the sugar you pour liberally into innovation gas tanks.

Lone Wolf — Be too smart for other people.

Other people just complicate things. If you get forced to do good research or happen to step in some and can’t get it off, you can still do damage by avoiding creating things with the people you serve. They would just show you where your problem definition is off. The people you serve are living the problem so they will come up with good ideas that you can’t. You don’t want all that goodness interfering with the crater you’re hoping this project will become.

Accept Sloth — Just do the easy research.

Internet a few things then call it a day. Don’t look at how similar problems have been addressed. Don’t search for research papers. Don’t speak with the people you serve. Don’t find subject matter experts. Don’t gather data about how people behave and why. Make sure nobody else does, either. You want gaps in your understanding big enough to swallow any hope of successful outcomes.

Deploy Strategic Ignorance — Stop researching when you don’t like what you’re learning.

If you are accidentally exposed to good research and can’t make it go away, just ignore it. Sometimes the research says you need to adjust how you understand the problem you’re trying to solve. Sometimes research points to the need for more research to really understand things. Just cover your eyes. “Forget” to share it with the team. Strategic ignorance will let that wound fester and, if you’re lucky, you’ll have a gangrenous innovation project in no time.

Wing It — Ignore your research once you start making stuff.

Another way to avoid the clarity of thought and good decisions driven by good research is to rely on your experience and preferences while building your solution. This works especially well if you are, or represent, the HIPPO, the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion. Do what you can to evaluate things based on your preferences alone. When people dare resist you with data, insist that you prefer the blue one because you just like it.

Go Vegas Broke — Make one big bet on a solution.

Maybe you’re late to the process and people are already building solutions based on good research. Don’t worry, you can still wreck things by pushing everyone to avoid testing anything before rolling it out. Don’t let anyone make competing versions to test in the world. Tell them that research is all they need to be certain that the solution will work in the world. Make sure you use up all your time and money making your fully finished solution. If you leave room for repairs, someone might go back and fix things after your solution makes unforgiving contact with reality [insert sound: glass shattering].

Toss The Hand Off Grenade — Ignore the delivery team.

If you managed to avoid doing research with, and building with, the people who will take the solution into the world and maintain it, you’re all ready for the hand off grenade. You can ensure greater damage to the solution’s chances of success by providing zero information about how choices were made and why this solution was chosen over others. You want to hear exasperated people say things like, “I wish you’d talked to me sooner,” or “If I’d known we were going to do this, I would have … .”

Poke The Kraken — Ignore the systems.

Let the world’s complexity do your dirty work for you. Make sure to shut down conversations or research that looks into how your problem or solution connects to the systems that surround it. If you don’t, people might start adapting the solution’s outcomes to survive system influences and their ability to distort or break your solution. You’ll be able to blame the big, bad system when everyone is watching your solution being eaten alive.

Close Your Eyes — Treat measurement as a distraction.

If someone wants to gather data about the innovation process, target outcomes or solution performance, take them out by having them work on a slide deck and ask for meaningless edits until they go away (“ … I know, but can you make it bluer?”) You don’t want anyone to find out what isn’t working. They might fix it. If a slide genius outwits you and measurement is unavoidable, push to measure things that make you feel good, but aren’t connected to the desired outcomes that launched the whole innovation process in the first place.

Congratulations! You’re now a certified Innovation Saboteur. You’re ready to destroy your next innovation project. You can thwart anyone who might wield an innovation mindset against you. You’re not evil. Your little voice just wants a little less thinking and uncertainty between lattes. Use these methods to orchestrate your next symphony of innovation destruction. Your little voice will thank you.

If you want to make sure nobody steals your Innovation Saboteur title, use this Ask Like a Designer Thinking Tool to protect your next project from sabotage. Download it here. Just be careful not to show the Thinking Tool to your little voice; it will be greatly offended and stop speaking to you.

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