By: David Burkus
Is your company too bogged down in meetings, emails, policies, and procedures, leaving little time for big-picture thinking and innovation? Then you need to read Lisa Bodell’s book, Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution.
We trust innovation to bring our organization’s success – but can we trust ourselves to innovate? In many companies, we preach a great sermon about the need to “think outside the box” and “embrace change.” Despite this great preaching, few efforts actually manage to convert the organization into an innovative success. In the end, we regress back to the status quo. Despite our best intentions, most innovation efforts fall flat simply because the organization itself was designed to prevent it. While we encourage creativity, we exist inside a system built to discourage it. This is the paradox Lisa Bodell confronts in Kill The Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution.
Kill The Company is named after one of the many tools Bodell uses to help organizations step outside themselves and be truly free enough to think creatively about what their needs are. The exercise, like many in her book, is designed to get participants to think of their company different. Instead of asking, “How can we beat the competition?” she argues for asking, “How can the competition beat us? How can we kill the company?” I like this approach, and there’s actually some solid research behind the idea of enhancing creativity by reframing questions to think from a different perspective. My second favorite take away from Bodell is the “Kill a Stupid Rule” exercise – where the policies that hinder performance are put on trial and executed. Just about anyone who has been a part of an organization for longer than six months can appreciate the genius behind “kill a stupid rule.”
While the case studies are entertaining and informative, it’s the “Innovation Toolkit” section of the book readers will most likely return to after their first read.
The book is written for anyone who wants to unleash innovation inside his or her organization. Bodell argues that innovation begins at the individual level, but also that individuals shape culture, and an organization’s culture dramatically effects innovation. However, it is most useful for middle and senior managers, as many of the exercises advocated for in the book take a reasonable level of authority to initiate. While there are definitely cases and examples inside the book that even individual contributors can enjoy, if you’re not at a sufficient enough rank inside an organization to affect change, reading these examples and studying the exercises may just further your frustration at trying to change the status quo.
Kill The Company reads like a call to arms – meaning it is long on inspirational case studies sprinkled with a few decent exercises to get creativity flowing. While the case studies are entertaining and informative, it’s the “Innovation Toolkit” section of the book readers will most likely return to after their first read. In addition, there isn’t too much discussion on the evidence behind why Bodell’s exercises might work – though there is such evidence for many of the ideas and exercises featured. If you’re looking for an empirical book on innovation, this is not it, but it is in line with much of that literature. If you’re looking for a call to arms to inspire yourself or your company toward innovation, Kill The Company just might be the rallying cry you need.
By David Burkus
About the Author
David Burkus is the author of The Myths of Creativity: The Truth About How Innovative Companies and People Generate Great Ideas. He is also founder of LDRLB and assistant professor of management at Oral Roberts University.