Monday, December 03, 2012

Chapter 1 The End


There's no such thing as a free lunch...

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"Some people see things that are and ask, Why?  Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?  Some people have to go to work and don't have time for all that ..."  
George Carlin

Chapter 1
The End

The SUSPECT: Chief Executive Officer

“Dead.” His head drops dejectedly into his hands and he rubs his eyes with his palms. ‘Murdered. Somehow…’ his voice trails off. The summer evening has now turned to dark night in the window behind him. He sits facing into the room towards the door at a large oak desk, his face coloured a jaundiced yellow by the desk lamp. In front of him on the desk is a hand-crafted, African Blackwood name plaque which proclaims in gold letters that this is John Troy CEO.

In front of John is a report. A consultants’ report on the synergies which would be gained as a result of a merger between his company and their fiercest competitor. At over five hundred bucks per page John should be riveted, caught up in the detail and arguments. Instead he whispers to himself softly, ‘I’m sure I’ve read this paragraph on debt restructuring before,’ which he has. And then unexpectedly he says out loud mournfully, ‘Definitely dead. Shame I…’ his voice trails off. Now he’s lost in unhappy thoughts. ‘I’m in big trouble. I promised “Them” that there would be a result, a big result, a result to show that we could take on the global challenge of low price labour and win. But our most promising opportunity is dead, stone dead. Dead. Dead like a parrot,’ he thinks, allowing himself a wry, lopsided smile. Then loudly, reproaching himself, he adds, ‘I should never have got so carried away. I mean, everyone in the sector is struggling with innovation. Why did I have to promise “Them” double digit growth through sustainable growth, through innovation?’ John knows the reason he promised double digit growth. It was simply because the private equity guys had been sniffing around and he knew what that meant. He shudders. He really is at his wits end. He’s done everything he can think of and a lot more besides, he recalls. He’s set innovation as a KPI linked to bonuses, he’s hired the ‘best’ consultants, McKlaskeys, whose claim, plastered all over every international airport, is that they ‘Make Innovation Happen’; well they’d better, for what they charge a day! John needs to roll-out an innovation strategy across the organisation. But he doesn’t want to fly all his global executives or hundreds of managers to a summit at great expense, explain it to them and then have them go back home, back to their old ways. ‘I need to make sure that they learn new ways of working, collaborate in delivery around the globe, and I need to be involved with what is happening.’ He pauses, reflecting on time, costs and the difficulty of this. What he needed was… He’s stumped. What other choices did he have? He’d gone all modern and trendy and started a blog and his comms people regularly tweeted quotes from him on his behalf about how crucial innovation was. But this had little effect. He’d appointed a Director of Innovation. Another pause, auditing his actions and then he is suddenly pleased with himself that he has covered everything practical, and then reflects, ‘What a shame the guy leading their best innovation opportunity has just quit.’ John broods darkly. To be honest, he’d never really liked Mark. ‘Mark was never straight. Always smug, some sort of joke no one else ever got. Wouldn’t stick to the processes. I mean how could you trust a guy like that? You never knew where you were with him, always coming up with something new and different from what had been agreed at the last meeting!’ A successful organisation needed clear accountability and control – the problem with these creative types was you couldn’t control them and John desperately needed absolute control at all times. ‘And that crazy idea of Mark’s to scrap the Key Performance Indicators and allow people to have some flexibility with their time. Madness. Without checking the billable hours, the sales targets and making sure people delivered their projects exactly when they promised – not a day early/not a day late, all hell could break loose.’ John stands up, turns sharply to the right and stares blankly out of the window, into the void of blackness. He stares at nothing, just feeling the fear and melancholy of his soul. His body mirrors his mood with hunched shoulders and motionless arms. He’d wanted more certainty, more control. After all, it was his neck on the line. And now this… ‘It’s dead. I need something else to show, something to parade, a hot, “sexy” product idea, a market opportunity which gives us a head start. And that must not fail or “They” will have my head… on a platter.’

He straightens up, the load on his shoulders lifting slightly with a new train of thought: ‘I should have some time this weekend to think it over and, well, if we can’t get any good growth through our innovations I can always go for a merger. If I get the CEO post in the merged organisation “They’ll” have to give me the standard 100 day honeymoon to sort things out, plus since there is no financial history the analysts won’t be able to raise the pressure by comparing performance to the past, for at least a year. And even if that didn’t work we’d be bigger and more dominant in the market. That should help with the performance. If I don’t get the top job there are my stock options and the exit bonus I negotiated when I took the job… that should pay for at least 70 feet of yacht…’

This is taken from the manuscript of Prof Eddie Obeng's new book Who Killed the Sparq? We'd love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Want to read more?

Chapter 2: Ideas Lost
Chapter 3: Who Killed the Sparq?
Chapter 4: Mother of Invention
Chapter 5: If You Don't Mind, I'll Have Your Watch Please
Chapter 6: I Wouldn't Have Started from Here
Chapter 7: Weeding Out the Weaklings
Chapter 8: Still Hunting and Gathering


Blogger Barbara Alford said...


Who killed the Sparq is an easy, entertaining read which puts together a very clear picture of the way organisations sabotage their own innovation process.

As Mr Obeng points out, in an increasingly consolidating marketplace, dominance is a valid choice for only a few, so the rest of us must evolve to survive.

Who killed the Sparq is a good start for evaluating the current potential of your organisation to nurture genuine innovation and find 'the next big thing'.

Barbara Alford
Research Director

10:27 am  

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