The Path of Least Resistance Creates Mirages and Kills Innovation

July 19, 2011

While at a skeptics convention last week in Vegas, one of the speakers talked about why mirages are the result of light taking the path of least resistance. Instead of light from the sky going straight to our eyes, it is actually easier for it to first go to the ground and then to our eyes. (here’s an article I just found on this concept in case you are interested)

This got me thinking…

What is the path of least resistance in an organization? And does this create mirages? Does this give us false information? Does this ultimately destroy innovation?

I was recently speaking with a client who has for quite some time been running an idea platform within their organization. Think of it as an electronic suggestion box where employees can contribute ideas they have that will help improve the business in some way.

The company decided that they wanted to move more towards a challenge-driven innovation model. With this approach, employees are asked to provide solutions to specific problems that are of importance to the organization.

They (correctly) believed that this would harness the collective energies of the people inside their organization. It would get them to focus on what matters most.

However, in spite of their efforts to drive people to the challenge, most of the activity remained on the idea platform.

They wondered why they could not get people focused on solving challenges, but employees had no problem providing suggestions and ideas.

The reason is the path of least resistance.

Imagine you are an innovator inside of a company. What is easier? Read a challenge, contemplate it, and formulate solutions? Or, simply barf your harebrained ideas into the suggestion box?

The answer is obvious. Ideas are easy. This is why they are plentiful. Everyone has an opinion or suggestion. But thinking about a problem deeply and providing meaningful insights takes time and energy.

Of course, all is not lost.

You can change the path of least resistance. You can either make it more difficult for ideas to be submitted or you can make it easier for challenges to be solved. You can diminish the perceived value of an idea contribution and over-emphasizing the contributions to your challenge efforts.  Of course you could temporarily (or event permanently) shut off the path to the idea platform.

Of course this “least resistance” concept applies to much more than just your challenge-driven efforts.

Where in your organization is the path of least resistance destroying innovation? Where is the path of least resistance creating mirages that make it seem like there is water in the desert when in fact all you have is dust?

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Cover for New Book

July 8, 2011

As I previously announced, my next book, “Best Practices Are Stupid: 40 Ways to Out-Innovate the Competition,” will be published by Penguin’s Portfolio imprint on September 29, 2011.  For those of you who have not seen it, here is the cover:

Although the cover may change slightly, this is pretty close to the final version.

This book contains 40 bite-sized tips and tricks for creating a culture of innovation.

Most are quite counterintuitive or irreverent.  For example:

  • Asking for Ideas is a Bad Idea
  • Don’t Think Outside the Box; Find a Better Box
  • The Difference Between a Pipeline and a Sewer is What Flows Through It
  • You Get What you Measure, But Will You Get What You Want?
  • Hire People You Don’t Like

And 35 other unconventional ways to make your organizations a nimble, innovation machine.

The hardcover version is already for pre-order on and 800CEOREAD.

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Is Lack of Innovation Keeping You Stuck?

July 6, 2011

I was recently interviewed by Lisa Earle McLeod.  The resulting article has been published in a number of newspapers and online sites, including the Huffington Post.  Here’s the first half of the article…

Do you ever find yourself trapped inside the same issue over and over again?

Maybe it’s because you’re looking at it through the same lens. Whether it’s a business challenge or a personal one, the way we frame problems can limit our ability to solve them.

Innovation expert Steve Shapiro says, “If you are working on an aerospace engineering challenge, and you have a 100 engineers, adding another engineer to make it 101 won’t increase your likelihood of solving the problem. But if you add a biologist, a musician, a nanotechnologist or someone from the movie business, you might find some different solutions.”

The secret, says Shapiro, is to get a different perspective.

Shapiro ( tells the story of an engineer who was trying to figure out a better way to plug leaks in the Alaskan pipeline, where it’s sub-zero and repair guys aren’t just down the block.

One day the engineer got a paper cut. As he looked at his finger he realized, my finger has the same problem that a gas pipeline has, but I don’t have to go to a surgeon. The cut heals itself. The question then became, how do I create a self-healing pipeline? He didn’t need a band-aid; he needed a clotting agent.

Innovation is not just about creativity for creativity sake, says Shapiro. And it doesn’t just apply to engineering challenges.

Innovation is about harnessing good ideas that solve very specific problems for a very specific opportunity.

If you want to make innovation a repeatable and predictable process to solve your most pressing challenges, Shapiro ( offers three strategies…

Read the rest of this article on The Huffington Post

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How to Create a Happy Work Environment

July 4, 2011

While speaking at a conference on “happiness at work” in Copenhagen, I met Cathy Busani, the Managing Director of Happy, a training and consultancy business operating in the U.K. Although they only employ 30 people, Happy has won wide recognition for its innovative approach to management and to customer service. I was intrigued by her philosophy and asked her five questions about happiness at work.

Q: Why is happiness at work important? What evidence do you have that it improves business performance?

A: We believe that if your people are performing their best, then your business cannot fail to perform at its best. And people perform their best when they are happy and feel good about themselves. Therefore, ensuring this is the primary job of every manager. We feel so strongly about it, we ask our staff to complete a “happy check” every few months, which asks questions like “How do you feel walking in the door in the morning?” (from Depressed & Despondent to Eager & Excited) or “How stressed do you feel at work?” (from Very Stressed to Never Stressed). Making staff happy is a serious business!

Q: I heard you say that in happy organizations, the employees pick their boss and not the other way around. Can you say more about that?

A: We believe the people who manage staff should be in that position because they are great at it, and not just because they are great at their core job. Therefore, we believe people should have the right to choose who supports, nurtures, coaches and challenges them. If they do choose this person, they are much more likely to value that relationship and get the most from it. So throughout your career at Happy, if you want to change who manages you, you just have to ask. In most cases, we find people don’t change managers, partly because we have picked managers for their people skills. However, sometimes a change is requested. For example, one person chose a new manager because he had taken on a new role and felt the new manager would challenge him more. On another occasion, someone asked to change her manager because they had become friend’s with their current one and this was causing some issues between them.

Q: I love what you say about failure. Not only do you embrace it, but if someone is not failing enough, you assume something is wrong. How do you practically apply this in your organization?

A: We strongly believe that in order for there to be innovation and creativity in the culture of your business, people should “celebrate” their mistakes. In other words, try something out—if it goes wrong, adapt it and learn from it, but don’t try to hide it. We don’t actually throw a party when someone makes a mistake (and we don’t condone somebody getting the same thing wrong over and over), but everyone is very open and non-judgmental. We believe if you haven’t made any mistakes in your first three months at Happy, you aren’t really trying very hard.

Q: In your company, everyone knows what everyone makes, from the managing director down to the janitor. What are the advantages of this? And has it ever caused any problems?

Read the rest of this article on the American Express OPEN Forum

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