“It’s time to innovate the way you innovate.”
– Best Practices Are Stupid, front cover flap
Innovation and people are the air that author Stephen Shapiro breathes. In Personality Poker, he ingeniously integrated a card game into his book, creating a practical tool that helps determine how to best utilize the skills of team members to ensure innovation, job aptitude, and workplace happiness. After all, when we’re suited to a job, we usually excel.
In his follow-up book, Best Practices Are Stupid, Shapiro wants you and your team to start “innovating the way you innovate.” Shapiro is an advocate for a “less-is-more” approach when it comes to innovating. As he writes, “the key to innovating successfully involves innovating efficiently.” (2)
Best Practices are Stupid and its 40 tips are divided into five “components of innovation capability,” which are process, strategy, measures, technology, and people, the latter of which will be the focus of this summary. (5)
The Right Fit
“…it may even be time for you to turn your organization upside down. Give up central control and embed innovation in every crevice. Innovation is for the people and by the people. When you treat your employees as owners of the business, you will find that they take the initiative to innovate.”
-Best Practices Are Stupid, page 127
Hiring the right people is one of the cornerstones to building a successful business that will endure and flourish. As even the best hiring managers will attest, however, finding the right person to complement a team can be a lot of guess work.
Will they get along with the existing team?
Do they have the skill set necessary to not only competently complete their job each day, but also rise above what’s expected of them?
Do their beliefs mesh with the business’s philosophy?
While these questions can be difficult to answer during a traditional interview, Shapiro reminds us of their importance. After all, “Your people are your culture.” (16) An innovative attitude and spirit begets innovation, so it’s crucial to consider how the culture will be affected when looking for someone to complement your team. To inspire innovation at every level, Shapiro says, “treat your employees as owners of the business.” Make them feel as though they have a vested interest in the results of effective innovation, and make sure they understand that their opinions count and are required.
GEM # 1
Avoid the Cult
“Is your organization a cult? In other words, is your culture so strong that it encourages everyone to think the same way? Maybe it’s time to hire people who don’t ‘fit the mold.’”
–Best Practices Are Stupid, page 127
In business, as in life, we often surround ourselves with people who think the way we do. It makes us feel comfortable, safe. However, in a business context, building a team of like-minded individuals can be a hindrance to innovation and long-term success. Shapiro likens this to establishing a cult where everyone espouses the same beliefs of their nefarious leader. To avoid this, we have to let go of the safety net that is like-mindedness and surround ourselves with a team of people who challenge why we think the way we do; people who aren’t afraid to shoot down an idea if they don’t like it. What’s one way to do this? Hire people you don’t like! Shapiro suggests keeping the following mantra in mind when hiring: “The person you like the least is the person you need the most.” (131)
When we work in teams that are all on the same wave length, problems can often be solved in a short amount of time, especially in what Shapiro calls “low difficulty” situations. However, in a study of thirteen teams, the teams comprised of people with divergent backgrounds, opinions, etc. innovated more effectively in “high difficulty” scenarios.
“Innovation demands diversity of perspectives, disciplines, and personalities,” says Shapiro, “Having a group of people who think the same way only gives you more of the same. Having people on your team who get along well may seem easier, but it will rarely lead to new and innovative ideas.” (131)
When you hire someone who sees the world differently, or work with someone who has a divergent opinion, you may be annoyed by them when you’re trying to innovate. Shapiro would argue that this is a good thing. The contrarian thinkers are actually complementing your own skill set, and allowing your team to strike a better balance, making innovation possible. Also in that vein, when hiring, Shapiro suggests hiring two people with complementary skill sets. For example, if you’re hiring someone that is very creative, also hire someone who thinks more analytically. With this type of thinking, you’ll have all of your bases covered and innovation will be more effective.
GEM # 2
“One way to make time is to get your knowledge workers doing knowledge work.”
–Best Practices Are Stupid, page 149
Years ago, when Stephen Shapiro was working for a computer manufacturer, his supervisor was laid off and he had to pick up the slack. He was essentially working two jobs, which meant (at first blush) that he would have to go from working 50 hours a week to a mind boggling 110. How on earth was he supposed to find additional time to innovate? Rather than mindlessly trying to complete the obscene workload, Shapiro spent a weekend scrutinizing the tasks he would have to complete in these 110 hours. In doing so, he realized that a mere “20 percent of my work was high value-add. These were the high-priority items I still needed to perform.” (147) Of the other 90 hours, he realized that there were certain tasks that he felt weren’t beneficial, and so he just stopped doing them. (He didn’t tell his higher ups, and they didn’t seem to take any notice.) But more importantly he realized that some of the tasks that fell under his umbrella “were really the responsibility of another department or individual.” (147) This combined realization – the work that could stop, plus the work that was misallocated – allowed him to shaving 90 hours off his workload, and made the entire team more efficient as a result. And, as his team was assigned new tasks, they became more knowledgeable and focused, and therefore more likely to innovate.
Get your high-value knowledge workers doing high-value knowledge work. For instance, sales representatives are often bogged down doing work that could easily be someone else’s responsibility. Shapiro estimates that only 25% of the average sales persons time is being spent on high-value tasks. This could easily be doubled to 50% by reassigning the various tasks that are wasting their time. This would leave room for high-value activities (or what Shapiro refers to as “knowledge work”), allowing innovation to become a priority and a reality.
Best Practices Are Stupid is an important and worthy addition to any manager or team leader’s business book library. Despite the fact that Shapiro’s latest book doesn’t come packaged with a fun game, the 40 tips, organized into the five categories are easy to understand and make actionable. “These tips are designed to help you innovate differently,” Shapiro writes in the introduction. “Innovate more efficiently. Innovate in a more focused manner.” (4) And I, for one, believe they do just that.