While surfing LinkedIn the other day, I noticed an article about organizational transformation. (Good luck with that.) The profile of the author indicated he was responsible for innovation. The first thing that crossed my mind was that being responsible for innovation was like being responsible for buckets of steam or left-handed monkey wrenches. But then, in a rare moment of beneficence, it occurred to me that actually being accountable for delivering something as utterly nebulous as innovation must be daunting, if not downright terrifying. 

That led to my busting out the thinking cap I keep in the top drawer of my desk and engaging in some serious cogitating, the better to determine what was going on here. Once the cap was secure on my noggin, I realized my first mistake in this undertaking was assuming the apparently mandated pursuit of ephemera was a terminological quandary: What’s the difference between innovation and change? My second mistake was trying to frame it as a matter of quantification: How much innovation is enough, and how do you measure it?

After getting nowhere with those particular avenues of examination, I realized none of it meant anything. And that was the key to the entire enterprise: If innovation can’t be consistently defined, let alone measured, the term and the responsibility for achieving it are without substance. That led me to developing a methodology for creating the appearance of organizational transformation — a term as meaningless as innovation — that would satisfy anyone and everyone who buys into the misbegotten notion that anyone can or should be responsible for innovation-on-demand. (“The Board expects two innovations per quarter out of you, Herb. That’s why you make the Big Bucks.”)

The Model

The methodological model I derived for creating the appearance of innovation I’ve branded as DIMWIT™ (Disruptive Innovation Meetings With Interdisciplinary Teams). Here’s how it works:

  • Label every department alphabetically (Operations = A, Administration = B, Accounting = C, Product Development = D, and so on).
  • Put together teams of at least five people, each of whom represents a different department, preferably people who’ve never worked together before, ideally people who don’t even know each other.
  • Lock each team in a different room for a week and see what each of the teams comes up with.
  • At the beginning of the second week, hold a company-wide meeting to recognize all of the things the teams have come up with.
  • Create an award for the best whatever the hell it is they come up with.
  • At the beginning of the third week and thereafter until the organization collapses, ignore the fact that it’s a dysfunctional disaster.
  • Pass the whole thing off as innovation.

Everybody comes out smelling like a rose. The Board is happy. And Herb looks like a hero.

Ready, Aim, Fired

After the DIMWIT trademark was published by the USPTO, we were contacted by Jargon Industries and asked to conduct a DIMWIT pilot program at the company’s world headquarters, with the objective of transforming the organization in 90 days. At the completion of the pilot, the Board was happy, the Senior Management Team was happy, the shareholders were happy, the person responsible for innovation was happy, the rest of the employees were miserable, and absolutly nothing had changed.

Petunia Schmeltz from Jargon Industries’ Payroll Department won the DIMWIT Award for her suggestion that people don’t get paid until they actually do something besides talk about disruption and innovation.

Then she was fired.