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Are Dumb Rules Killing Innovation in Your Company?

Innovation is the process of coming up with new ideas and/or putting together existing ideas, products or services in new and different ways to achieve value. In order to do that, we sometimes have to first get rid of the obstacles that are getting in the way. One quick and simple method for eliminating barriers to innovation is to kill a stupid rule.Angry man with hammer

I would love to take credit for this idea. But in the interest of full disclosure, it belongs to Futurethink, an innovation consulting and training firm that helps organizations think differently, drive change and achieve success. (For a short video on “Kill A Stupid Rule,” go here <>) A great idea is a great idea no matter who comes up with it, and this one deserves passing on.

Implementing “kill a stupid rule” is simple. At your next team meeting, ask, “If you could get rid of any rule in this company – either kill it or change it – what would you do and why?” Don’t worry about if the boss won’t like it or whether it might cost too much. Just what would you kill or change, and why? Then sit back and let people throw out ideas for 10 minutes.

Next, choosing from all the ideas presented, have everyone write down on a sticky note the one rule they would most like to kill or change first. Group the sticky notes together on a white board, depending on whether they would be hard or easy to implement and would have a low or high impact on the organization. Sort out the rule changes that would be easy to implement and have a high impact on the organization. Then ask the team: what do we need to do to make this happen?

Interestingly, you may find that many of the “rules” people want to kill aren’t actually rules. Instead, they often turn out to be assumptions, thought bubbles, or internal messages that people tell themselves about the way things are supposed to be. And that’s where the notion of “kill a stupid rule” aligns with what I am constantly helping clients with.

So much of what goes on in organizations is a result of thought bubbles and assumptions. These unspoken thoughts and beliefs perpetuate themselves because we’re all running so fast that we don’t take the time to question whether our assumptions are still valid in today’s world. Over time, they become internal “rules” and limiting constraints that guide decisions and actions on an individual and organizational level.

Unfortunately, most of these rules center around what we can’t or shouldn’t do rather than what we could or should. As a result, they act as constraints on our thinking. They shut down the creative thinking process and close our minds to new ideas and possibilities.

My approach is to encourage people to pause on a regular basis and take a measured look at their thought bubbles and assumptions. Killing one stupid rule is one technique for doing that. Here are a few more from my new book Using Your Brain to Win.

To shift your brain out of “stuck” mode and get it used to considering new possibilities:

• Ask “What if…?” questions. For example, what if our “right” answer is wrong? What if this “rule” no longer applied to our business or industry? What if we could change this rule; what would we do differently?

• Change your perspective by putting on different stakeholder hats. Do customers agree with your unspoken thoughts and assumptions? Your employees? Your vendors? Would someone outside your industry see your rule as necessary or as an obstacle to progress?

• Solicit alternative viewpoints. Too often, teams rush to consensus rather than considering all the options. When that happens, make a deliberate effort to get opposing ideas and opinions out on the table. For example, “It seems like we’re all in agreement here. Are there any other perspectives we might be missing?”

• Have people come up with the worst possible solution to a problem. Then turn it around and see if any of those ideas apply. Trade problems. If marketing is struggling to resolve an issue, let purchasing take a stab at solving it.

Regardless of the technique, the underlying principle is to stop taking your rules for granted just because they’ve been around a while. Whether you kill a stupid rule or merely prod, poke, annoy, pester or harass it, pausing to challenge your assumptions will help you see things differently and give new life to your innovation efforts.

Call to action: Identify one rule you will kill in your organization and why.

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