Delete to Innovate


I attended an IMI* masterclass with Freek Vermeulen recently – he’s an Associate Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship at the London Business School. Two things stand out about Freek. One: he manages to make Strategy and Entrepreneurship funny and two: his infectious, almost evangelical energy.

His perspective on innovation was refreshing – in particular how it relates to the world of work. I hope he doesn’t mind me paraphrasing.

Central to Freek’s thinking was that innovation can be just as effective as a reductive, rather than an additive process. In other words ‘What can a company stop doing that a substantial group of people don’t care about?’ Those people could be customers or employees. Obviously this requires a clear focus on a particular group – employee segmentation in other words.

In the case of challenger consulting firm, Eden McCallum, this group is top-drawer management consultants, who prefer to work on a contract basis. So the firm has done away with permanent contracts in favour of a freelance model, where consultants choose the assignments and timeframes they want to work to. They have also eliminated extraneous tasks that frustrate consultants: business development, team appraisals and the likes.

The result (to use their own words) is “a model of management consulting that gives clients and consultants what they really want: great quality projects, flexibility in terms of how they work, and at a price that delivers good value.”

I’m attracted by this idea of business model innovation because it puts a clearly defined and understood employee at the very centre of the value chain. The principle that doing away with, rather than introducing features, can add value, frees companies from the sometimes torturous and risky process of ‘creative innovation’.

What is required however, is a readiness to question the assumed ‘best practices’ and norms of industries as well as the herd mentality that often characterises management cultures. It got me thinking: what do we do that our team really don’t care about – or worse, actively detest? And if that’s something that clients dislike too, why do we do it?

Timesheets anyone?

*Hats off to IMI by the way for a consistently excellent Masterclass Series in 2015.