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Book Brief: Kill the Company
Monday, June 18, 2012
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Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution
Lisa Bodell
May 2012
www.bibliomotion.com

In today’s economy, innovation is the lifeblood of success. Companies know they have to “think big” and encourage their teams to nimbly embrace change. Some have made significant progress in the past several years, but most innovation falls flat. Despite their best intentions to innovate, so many companies breed cultures that actually discourage creative thinking and innovative behaviors.

Why? Author Lisa  Bodell argues in her new book that a company’s Number 1 Enemy is itself. Organizations have become dominated by complexity and complacency. If companies want to change their trajectory, drive growth, and learn new skills, they must begin by rooting out entrenched behaviors, cultures, and processes.  The solution: Kill the company. Indeed, Kill the Company isn’t just a new book by futurist Lisa Bodell, it’s a revolution.

Toolkit for Change and Innovation

Among the advice and case studies, Bodell lays out a toolkit to take companies from Zombie Inc. to Think Inc.  One the ideas in the Kill the Company toolkit is the exercise Kill a Stupid Rule, which is a thought-provoking tool organizations can use to strip out the unnecessary obstacles. Ity works like this: gather your teams together and tell them to find a partner. Give them 10 minutes to answer this question: “If you could kill or change all the stupid rules that get in the way of doing your work, what would they be, and how would you do it?” Then sit back and watch the sparks fly.

According to Bodell, most of the rules people want to kill are small, daily annoyances that are hugely detrimental to a company’s culture—processes like reports, redundant sign-offs, and daily operation details. This exercise allows the company to discover the by-products of work that make it impossible for people to get their “real work” done. When the company kills a rule, it demonstrates how serious it is about making real changes.

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For example, Kill a Stupid Rule changed the lives of 130 members of The McGraw-Hill Companies’ global human resources team in the summer of 2011. Its stupid rule: the requisite monthly operating report (MOR).   Everyone hated it. It took a lot of time to prepare, required input from many people, and few believed it was useful—or even read by management. People felt so strongly about killing it, the suggestion drew standing ovations. What happened was truly inspiring: John Berisford, executive vice president of HR, told the group he would eliminate MOR for several months. If nobody missed it or no ill effects popped up, the change would become permanent. Today, MOR is still dead, and the positive effects of one small change rippled throughout McGraw-Hill.

Little Goes a Long Way

A major take away from the book is how little it takes to inspire radical opportunities for change in your business. In fact, Bodell calls these small changes Little Bigs. Kill the company points out that many top-down innovation programs (or grandiose overhauls) that so many organizations insist on scare and overwhelm employees. With Little Bigs, there is no grand announcement. Instead these is almost a stealth-like approach to change that is experienced rather than announced.  

Some example of Little Bigs that companies have implemented to change their employees’ for the better:

  • Nielsen, a global marketing and research company, killed the “Reply All” button in its email server. Now people have to think about who really needs to see an email.
  • U.S. Cellular did away with internal emails on Fridays altogether. On Fridays, people have to get up out of their chairs and communicate with co-workers. It forced people to consider what should be considered truly necessary information.
  • Groups within Novartis and Wells Fargo ask that people drop off their mobile devices in “cell phone daycare” before meetings so they can focus instead of multitask.

Bottom Line

Bodell believes that if you want to change people’s approach to change, you have to change your approach. Rather than adopting additional rules, processes, and guidelines that are supposed to foster innovation, Bodell contends that opportunities for innovation already exist and companies should simply kill off behaviors that stand in the way of creativity. Indeed, Bodell’s simple toolkit offers an antidote to most counterproductive initiatives.

About the Author

Lisa Bodell is the founder and CEO of futurethink, an internationally recognized innovation research and training firm. Lisa founded her company on the principle that with the right knowledge and tools, everyone has the power to innovate. As a leading innovator and cognitive learning expert, she has devised training programs for hundreds of innovators at leading companies such as 3M, GE, and Johnson & Johnson. A respected thought leader on innovation topics, Bodell has appeared on FOX News, and in publications such as Crain’s, Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, WIRED, Investor’s Business Daily, Successful Meetings, Harvard Business Review, and The Futurist. She serves as an adviser on the boards of the Institute of Direct Marketing in London, The Women’s Congress, the Association of Professional Futurists, and the prestigious Institute for Triple Helix Innovation think tank. She has also taught at American University, Fordham University, and the American Management Association.

About the Author

Ryann K. Ellis is an editor for the Association of Talent Development (ATD). She has been covering workplace learning and performance for ATD (formerly the American Society for Training & Development) since 1995. She currently manages ATD's Community of Practice blogs, as well as ATD's government-focused magazine, The Public Manager. Contact her at rellis@td.org. 

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