The complete article on Boxes And Arrows by by Robert Ouellette

There is something disturbingly irresistible about the series Extreme Makeover. Watching someone intent on changing their life by changing their skin is, well, like watching an accident in slow motion. The outcome is often going to be bad but we become all-toowilling witnesses to the spectacle before us.

Extreme Makeover is an unlikely place to look for useful insights into corporate innovation. Even the fat, awkward, and, let’s face it, hideous bubble-era companies were not going to improve their questionable bottom lines with a nose job, liposuction, and tummy-tuck. In spite of that, the show can offer some useful lessons when trying to understand the dynamics of innovation. Why do we need new lessons? Technology companies that died in the market crash left a legacy that still bloats the collective corporate body of today’s R&D driven enterprises.

Consultants are to innovation what surgeons are to beauty. Both perform best when the patient already has good bones and is in robust health. When the client is already 90 percent complete and only needs just a few nips and tucks to bring out their existing beauty, it’s easy to be a creative genius. That is why many innovation managers can pull out their “cut first and get fit later” scalpel, slice, stitch, and leave a good-looking reference behind. In most real world cases though, effective innovation practices are not easily prescribed, especially when used on a corporate body that is innovation anorexic.

What are the “weird” anti-lessons, if I can borrow from innovation theorist Robert Sutton, we can learn from Extreme Innovation Makeover and apply to your company with or without innovation consultants? First, understand that lessons are not rules. Rules are prescriptive. They assume a complete understanding of the organism and every input and reaction that affects it. R&D based companies defy this kind of Fordian thinking. In fact, the practice of innovation is more like a process of obliquity. You get to where you want to go by, in effect, walking away from your destination.

Innovation Extreme Makeover Lessons

1: Fitness precedes beauty.
Healthy bodies are more receptive to beautification than are unhealthy ones.
(Innovation evolves from sound business practices, good leadership, talented staff, and strong interpersonal relationships-get fit first then aspire to create innovative products.)

2: Beauty is a subjective measure.
Some people think Ivana Trump is beautiful. Ford thought the Edsel was a beautiful car. What is beautiful to one person can sometimes be ugly to another.
(Innovation to one company is chaos to another-effective innovation practices are organization and environment specific. Be sure that your new innovation look fits your company’s personality.)

3: Aspiring to beauty can be fatal, be prepared.
As the recent plastic surgery related death of Cinar Entertainment co-founder Micheline Charest illustrates, even the rich and powerful are, after all, only mortal.
(Be careful what you wish for, the wrong kind of innovation can destabilize and even kill your company. Ask Enron.)

For details to the “Lessons” go here.