Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret (part 1)

“Innovation’s Dirty Little Secret” by Larry Osborne is an important book for a leader to read wanting to lead change. I read it once and loved it so much that I had our Senior Leadership Team read it. Here are ten of my favorite moments from the first half of the book:

Osborne Book

  • (In the beginning of the book, it lists a bunch of people recommending the book and the reason they recommend it. Almost all are well known Christian leaders. But my favorite recommendation was from his mom:) “This is an amazing book, just like all the rest of Larry’s books. I always buy them in bulk. You should too.” – Carolyn Osborne, Larry’s mom (p. 2)
  • What is the dirty little secret of innovation? It’s simply this: most innovations fail. They always have. And they always will… Yet that raises an important question, the question that drives this book: how is it that some people and organizations seem to defy the odds? How is that some folks successfully innovate and change time after time? How do they overcome their failures? How do they maximize their success? What is it that sets them apart? What do they know – and what do they do – that others don’t? (pp. 17, 20)
  • It is hard for most innovative ideas to get a fair hearing. Unless the innovator is also the primary leader (or someone near the top of the organizational food chain), most leadership teams and boards won’t take the time to listen, which also explains why most innovators have to leave and start their own organizations in order to try out their ideas. [It is also hard for most innovative ideas to get a fair hearing because] most leaders and boards have a strong bias to protect the past. That’s not all bad. Someone needs to protect the gains of yesterday or they’ll be lost. But healthy organizations – those that remain healthy for the long haul – can’t just focus on protecting the past. They must also think about creating the future, because if they don’t, someone else will. And when that happens, all the gains they’ve worked so hard to protect will be lost. (p. 28)
  • Three telltale traits set innovators apart from others. If you hang around them long enough, you’ll see these traits cropping up in the words they use, the decisions they make, and the ideas they beg you to let them try. Here are the three traits to look for:
    1. A special kind of insight
    2. A unique for of courage
    3. Extraordinary flexibility (p. 29)
  • To help you think through your areas of greatest frustration and the problems that are most ripe for innovation, here’s a list of questions that you and your team can work through to prime the pump. These questions will help pinpoint the programs, processes, and mechanisms that are most ripe for change and innovation.
    • What is it that drives me crazy?
    • What are we doing that makes absolutely no sense?
    • What processes and program seem to take lots of work but bear no fruit?
    • What traditions are we putting up with simply because it has always been done this way?
    • What is the one problem that is we could solve it, most of our other problems would go away?
    • What’s broken that seems to be unfixable?
    • What problems are we living with because everyone says, “That’s just the way it is?” (p. 52)
  • To make a difference, a mission statement must have three essential traits. It must be ruthlessly honest, widely known, and broadly accepted. Each of these traits is absolutely critical. (p. 55)
  • Without missional clarity, it’s easy to be seduced by every innovative idea or proposal that appears. (p. 61)
  • It’s easy to identify the respected champions within your organization. Simply ask, “Who are the people who can single-handedly kill an idea by their opposition, and who are the people who can make it fly with their support?” …. Once you’ve identified a potential respected champion, solicit their support privately. Never share your new idea or proposal with a power broker for the first time in a public setting… That’s because they seldom change their mind once they’ve gone public with their support or opposition. (pp. 73-74)
  • In the same way that too many cooks spoil the broth, too much input spoils innovation… Innovators need to be allowed to lead, paying close attention to the feedback of others and the real-world response to their ideas without ceding control of the process, final product, or decision to groupthink… The crowd will have its day. Once a new program, product, or major change is introduced, they’ll vote with their feet and their wallets. They always have the final say. (pp. 96-97)
  • Committees and focus groups are innovation’s worst nightmare. Groups have a hard time escaping the gravitational pull of conventional wisdom… Many leadership teams would rather hurt the cause than hurt someone’s feelings. Which explains why any innovation or major change that has to pass through a gauntlet of committees or boards seldom escapes unscathed – and often never makes it out alive – and why too much groupthink is a guaranteed innovation killer. (pp. 99, 102)
  1. Of course innovation requires change, always difficult. As a former church trustee, I learned that every new idea is bad the first time they hear it. And also the second. By the third time, at least its familiar. Maybe by the fourth or fifth time, its worth considering. So I learned to be patient, and not to invest too heavily in promotion at first. It doesn’t seem to matter too much whether the times are a month apart or a day – just that there has been some history.

  2. Thanks for posting David. I have a love/hate relationship with the questions found on page 52. I love the fact that they get us thinking about what’s ahead, what’s at stake if we fail, what’s not working… I hate the fact that the answer to each question is another hill to conquer, battle to fight, and potential people to lose… However, asking and answering these questions, followed by hard work and dependence on God’s strength and timing, is what makes a leader a leader worth following.

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