Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Innovation Idolatory and Idiocy

The unmistakable sound of a process specialist tripping over the network cable made me look up from my machine even as I was slipping into the morning mode of phasing out.  The face that peered at me was etched with a smile that I interpreted as ominous. The zeal in his eyes spoke of untold owes about to be unleashed on my hapless self. It was justTuesday, a long way to go beyond that sun-kissed weekly horizon beyond which lie peace and quiet.

“Hi,” said the smiling face, a member of the newly formed Inno-culation Squad. From the barrage of mailers that clogged the organisational mailboxes before going through the religious shift delete routine, some did linger long enough for me to know that they were a special bunch supposed to find ways to innovate operations and spread them over the rest of the organisation like a shroud through intelligent circulation. Hence the composite moniker.

“Hi,” I replied hastily, clinging on to the slim chance that it was a casual stop on the way back from the coffee machine. But, I knew better. The Innoculator was already planting his uninvited butt in the unoffered chair. Talk about being proactive.

“Simon,” he greeted warmly, flashing another smile. “A minute of your time?”
I said that I could afford a minute but not much more. But, he translated it as a full blown invitation.
“I wanted to ask you something. Could you share your Outlook calendar?”

Now, let me tell you something about the Dutchmen. They are very touchy about calendars and diaries and appointment books. The average Dutch child gets his or her first appointment diary before puberty and uses them unceasingly for the rest of their lives. Although my ancestry and upbringing have left strains of the Irish and American in me, I am still as meticulous and possessive about my schedule as any Hans or Geert or Jaap.
I politely asked him why he wanted me to do that.

“We have a new idea,” he answered, eyes shining with parental pride.
I winced. Ideas and Innovations had brought the world economy on its knees not too long back. Luckily, our industry of dealing with the software of the Bank leaves us little elbow room to nudge the financial system out of balance. The thought waves are generally too feeble to cause a destructive tempest. Yet, the fear remains, along with the abhorrence for pungent brain-farts. I guardedly asked him what his idea was.

“This was the result of our Ideration,” he informed. “We were discussing ...”
I stopped him and asked him what Ideration was. He smiled proudly. “It is a composite word – for Idea and Generation. We call these sessions of Brain Blizzards ...”

I remarked that all along I had heard the term Brain Storming, and misnomer though it was in the liberal use of the first term, it was probably more accepted  ...

“Well, our first Innovation was to coin a new term for these sessions. It is for a regular Brain Storming session which is also cool. Hence Brain Blizzard. We had gone to Budapest for this Brain Blizzard ...”


“Yes. The different accounts have identified Idealisers. I am the Idealiser of this Account. So, as I was saying, all the Idealisers had been sent to Budapest to be trained in Innovation Techniques by our Innovation Centre of Excellence.”

Even attuned to the Internet, Social Media and Television News Channels, I found myself suffering from advanced stages of information overload. I asked him what on earth an Idealiser was.

“He is an Idea Evangeliser. So, every account has an identified Idealiser ...”

“And all of you went to Budapest?”

“Yes. To learn about thinking out of the box, lateral thinking, Creative Discussion, SWOT Analysis ...”
I politely asked him how long he had been in Hungary.

“Three days. We had some practical hands on sessions on innovation.  We also learnt about the process and templates to follow.”

“You have a Process for innovation?”

“Indeed. It is very rigorous. We have regular process checks to see if new Ideas are being implemented according to the guidelines.”

I sighed.

“And the company paid for this jamboree?”

 He was confused. It was probably too out of box a word for his cubicle and innovation honed vocabulary.

“Yes, there is a lot of focus on innovation now. It is a high visibility project. Every account lead is supposed to show innovation in at least one area every quarter.”

“Ah, so you have goals as well?”

He laughed. “Very defined ones. It is all in the Innual – or the Innovation Manual. We have to go strictly by the book.”

“And is someone keeping score?”

This lateral piece of dialogue foxed the Idealiser. “Score? The World Cup is over ...”

“I mean is someone keeping a tab on the expense of such Budapest Brain Blizzards and Idealising Investments?”

The Idealiser nodded condescendingly. “We are trained to save money with every Idealisation. All this will reflect very positively in the bottom line. In fact, there is a euro-value attached to the goal of one innovation per quarter – we have to demonstrate profits.”

I shrugged. “So in three days you have learnt to save money through Idealisation?”

He nodded. “That’s what Innoculation is all about.”

“And what has it got to do with my calendar?”

He became efficient and businesslike, a man of crisp words and lots and lots of action.

“We will look through your plan, note the deadlines and mark your calendar so that you get timely alerts.”

I waited for him to continue. I waited long, the paragon of patience. But, not another word came out of him, straight or lateral.


“As I said,” he repeated. “We will look through your plan, note the deadlines and mark your calendar so that ...”

“And that will save the account money?”

He smiled enthusiastically. “It will lead to Innov-ofit, that is to say Innovation Profit.”

I nodded. “I don’t doubt that will be enough of it. You have filled the manual with all these terms, haven’t you?”

“We were trained to think out of the box. All these terms were derived in the three days of training. “

“What else did you do those three days?”

“We listened to lectures or – as we call it – Idolatries ... or Idea Lauding Oratories. Now, Simon, could you share your calendar?”

I pressed my thumbs against my temples. The distinct throb was alarming.

“Has it ever occurred to you that Dutch blood runs through my veins? Contaminated by the Irish side of parentage and the American upbringing, but about half of the red blood corpuscles are from the heart of Holland.”

He gazed back, groping inside and out of the situational box, unable to make sense of the innovative angle of argument.

“Okay, let me break it down for you. I am Dutch and I work in the Project Management Office division. Every plan that I keep is tracked to the limit. All the milestones, deadlines, meetings, deliveries, releases for the next six months are already in my calendar. Now what possible value could you add by re-marking my calendar?”

Contrary to the extreme limits of my expectations, the Idealiser smiled knowingly.

“Simon, you made my task so much easier. Now the In-cubation will be so much easier. I will proactively mark your calendar by copying and pasting your appointments and reminders. And, well, in-cubation is placing an innovation in a cubicle.”

“And what will one appointment on top of another do, other than giving me two simultaneous reminders and one continuous headache?”

He frowned and made a note of something in his notepad. Probably the attitude problem of an Incipient – well I was already thinking of myself as a conglomerated being – an Innovation Recipient.

“You don’t see the bottom line do you?”

“All I see is a blot on my horizon.”

I don’t think he understood my sarcasm. He started scribbling on his notepad.

“You see, every deadline you could have missed has a monetary equivalent, an euro value associated with it in terms of loss, rework, penalty payment ... So, already, by copying and pasting your calendar, the innov-ofit will show quite a turnaround. We built a secure solution for you never to miss a deadline.”

I clutched my hair.
“Could you idealise another ground breaking idea?”

He frowned.
“Since you are not an official idealiser, any idea from you will have to be approved by the Idealiser of the account, followed by the Location Innoculator and finally the Grand Inquisitor – that is, the one in charge of Innovation Acquisition. That’s according to the Innual. However, I can try to get it passed.”

I slumped back in my seat.

“Why not leave me alone and let me carry on as usual. You can put down whatever I did not screw up as an Innovofit. Just don’t come to my cubicle again ...”

Obviously, such negotiations did not mature to fruition. To get rid of him, I had to ultimately share my calendar.  And then I popped down to the Apotheek to get myself an NWC 30 SFT for throbbing temples.

The ceaseless strife for the fifteen minutes of limelight has now been reduced to such serious levels of ridiculousness that company mailers increasingly look like badly exaggerated spoofs.  The implementers come and go, unknowingly producing fascinating periods of stand-up comedy.

A previous article I had written about Deming’s first principle rings true here as well, although in notes bellowing out of a grotesque tragicomedy. The trouble is still with the constancy of purpose.

In the 1990s, the Sears, Roebuck management reset the sales goals of automotive mechanics to $147 an hour – presumably to increase the speed of repairs. What it resulted in was overcharging for their services and repairing things that were not broken.

This is just a one-off example.  The business world is littered with such case studies.

In the almost pathetic parallel played out in the cubicular world, the goals are set to one innovation every quarter for every manager. Obviously, they will try and fix what is not broken, idiocy taking the guise of ideas, business as usual retrofitted as innovation and hallucination poured in large quantities into empty reality to conjure up figures showing return of investment.


  1. :)At times I think the industry buzzword "innovation" has given birth to the hidden unemployment in this industry... but what is pathetic is that the unemployed are hugely paid and also waste huge money in the name of "conception and implementation of innovation"... like flying to Budafest to watch n attend innovation "Labour room"

  2. Necessity is the mother of invention/innovation. In current corporate context, the necessity of innovating “innovation” is to keep the top echelon employed.....no wonder, as the top becomes heavy, there has to be process to produce innovation :)


Simon van der Wiel is a fictitious character who appears in the novel The Best Seller by Arunabha Sengupta.

These lines are both collected from the novel and extrapolated from it - additional musings of the author through his alter ego

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Amsterdam, Netherlands