The 7 Deadly Sins get an innovative makeover

By Peter Kerr 29/03/2012

As a bit of a sucker for an allegory, attaching thoughts about innovation to the seven deadly sins is a clever ploy and play.

That said though I’d be hard-pressed to name them (pride, sloth, gluttony, lust, envy, wrath, greed).

Scott Anthony directs the Asia-Pacific office of Innosight, and has recently published a book ‘The Little Black Book of Innovation: How it Works, How to Do It’.

Innovation Excellence highlighted the 7 Deadly Sins in a recent blog by Matthew E May (see here).

These sins have a strong parallel with the ‘Ten Design Principles’ by Designindustry’s Dorenda Britten, which provide a way to carry out a holistic development of a new product or service. See the sticK story here where Britten maintains that Kiwis have to learn to identify and kill bad ideas.

But, given the attractions of its allegorical nature, here’s the 7 Deadly Sins of Innovation laid out in sticK.

1. Pride
The sin of pride innovation is forcing your view of quality onto the marketplace, which often results in overshooting. The easiest way to avoid the sin of pride is by taking an external viewpoint to make sure you understand how the customer measures quality. Make sure you are grounded in what the market wants, not what you want.

2. Sloth
Are your innovation efforts slowing to a crawl? That’s sloth. More often than not, innovation simply takes too long. By the time a company gets around to doing something, the window of opportunity has closed. Why does innovation take so long? It’s not really laziness. It’s that people work on the wrong activities, typically by prioritizing analysis over action. It’s all too easy to fill your day with activities that make it feel as if you are making progress tackling a problem.
Avoid it by releasing your inner Edison: ‘genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.

3. Gluttony
Gluttony is suffering from an addiction to abundant resources and leads to overly slow, overly linear innovation efforts. Deep pockets allow companies to spend too many resources following the wrong strategy. They throw bodies against a problem, but everyone knows that small teams typically move faster than large teams.Avoid it by practicing selective scarcity: constrain resources in the early stages of innovation to enable creativity.

4. Lust
It’s easy to get tempted and distracted by pursuing too many bells and whistles, too many bright, shiny objects. Avoid it by focusing your innovation efforts, remembering that destruction often precedes creation. Stopping is as important as starting. Lust after too many things, and you’ll find that you end up with nothing. Good innovators carefully choose the opportunities they go after.

5. Envy
Envy occurs when innovators inside a company proclaim themselves the chosen ones, and create an us-vs-them relationship between your main business and your new growth areas. Remember, without that core business, there is no corporate innovation. Actively celebrate the efforts and successes of both old and new business areas to avoid the sin of Envy.

6. Wrath
A wrathful leader punishes innovation failures, using lines such as ‘Failure is not an option.’ But in innovation failure is most certainly an option. What kind of message does it send if you punish people who take well-thought-out risks that don’t pan out? Beautiful business plans don’t always turn into beautiful businesses. Avoid wrath by rewarding behaviour, not just outcomes.

7. Greed
Greed has its advantage, but innovators need to make sure they are greedy for the right thing. Greed is sinful when you’re being impatient about growth, and can lead to prioritizing low-potential markets and opportunities. If you look for quick growth, you are forced to look to what exists. The best innovators avoid the temptation to go after large, obvious, immediate markets. These people can be patient for growth. They should absolutely be greedy for results that demonstrate that the approach they are following has merits.