innovation throw away

If You Really Want to Be Innovative—Throw Stuff Away

My brother is moving. Or, rather, he has been moving for nearly six months now. Can you imagine? Frankly, I’m awed by his stamina. If you’ve had occasion to move your home or office, you know that the process is exhausting. And aggravating, and a number of other adjectives best left to the imagination.

But moving also presents an excellent opportunity to think about an issue of importance to organizations and their performance. When my brother moved, he downsized his home. Problem is, he is what he calls a “collector.” Our mother uses the H-word for it (hoarding).

So my brother has a lot of stuff. Much of it useful stuff. Either in its current state or as components of some repair or piece of construction he envisions. Even though some of it may be useful, there simply isn’t room for all the stuff to accompany him to his new digs. It’s time to weed out a significant number of possessions to clear space for a new chapter of his life.

Organizations face the same set of circumstances, especially when challenged with compelling business imperatives to grow and innovate. This year, i4cp published Human Capital Practices that Drive Innovation, along with articles and blogs that speak to many of the practical actions companies can take to spur creativity and innovation. To those excellent recommendations, I’d add another, in honor of my brother: throw stuff away.

Though not eloquently stated, the notion of throwing stuff away is long recognized in the business world as a necessary step that can free time and resources better devoted to new and more promising tasks. It’s just that few companies actually take the time to periodically audit practices, policies, procedures, methodologies, etc., and make some painful decisions about streamlining. Just as my brother doesn’t want to discard useful or potentially useful stuff, organizational leaders hesitate when it comes to stopping practices that have history in the company and that still seem at least somewhat productive.

That’s where real leadership insight comes in. It demands action by leaders who understand that sometimes innovation comes down to a matter of simply making room for something new. That can be especially hard when it isn’t obvious that a process or a product is coming to the end of its life cycle. But if you think back on your own career, haven’t you worked in organizations that paid a price for perpetuating what had become outmoded? Sooner or later, that price is paid in dollars, morale, time, competitive capability, sustainability, and other ways. And it’s expensive.

When I spoke to him this week, my brother announced that he believed the end of the move was finally in sight and that he’d accepted the inevitable conclusion that he just couldn’t haul everything along to the new place. He’d be getting rid of a lot of … stuff.

As you consider the many practices your organization can explore and adopt in order to encourage innovation and creativity, don’t forget the practices you need to stop. Concluding a chapter is the only way to move on to something new and different. Throw stuff away. After all, if sticking with the status quo was your goal, why would you even try to innovate?

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.