Innovation Anti-Patterns™

Cautionary tales from reality

After finding the same behaviors repeated over and over again with the same negative outcome, I developed a shorthand for describing common reasons why Innovation fails in organizations. I identify these behaviors as Innovation Anti-Patterns™.

Anti-patterns represent patterns of behavior that should be avoided at all costs when developing innovative products and services. Software programmers routinely use software anti-patterns to avoid costly and disastrous mistakes. A good example is: storing user's passwords in your database as plain text.

Innovation anti-patterns are easy to recognize as problematic when presented in a list. However, in the real world innovation disrupting behaviors come in all shapes and sizes and are disguised in everyday interactions you wouldn't give a second thought to.

I created Innovation Anti-patterns™ as quick mental models for behaviors that prevent breakthroughs from seeing the light of day. They are meant to work as a sort of "gut check" to help you reflect on how mundane, routine behavior is a constant current against which innovation must swim. Plus, they're fun to groan about together.

- Grant Wood

The original 12 Innovation Anti-patterns™

These are the original Innovation Anti-Patterns to get you started thinking about how to beat the odds and deliver breakthroughs to your customers.

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Innovation Anti-Pattern:

This time will be different

sounds like:

“We will run this like a regular project.”


THIS time will be different. Because THIS time we really intend to do it the RIGHT way. We will use the same people, governing structure, approval processes, funding mechanisms, timelines, development tools, vendors and partners... but because we WANT it to succeed more this time, it will be different. Just like last time.

Water Drop icon

Altitude sickness (AKA Toe in the water)

sounds like:

“Lets prove we can X before we move any further” -or- “What's the next thing we can do to know X for sure?”


Everyone who hears an idea wants to make sure it's "good enough" to bring to their boss. So, for every layer up the organization, additional "proof" is required, and the timeline expands each time someone new hears it. When the concept finally reaches the official "decision maker" several things may have already happened: 1) The original concept may have been "tweaked" for so many audiences along its journey, that it has lost what made it worthwhile to begin with. 2) The original team or person who authored the concept may not even be there when it is presented.

It's an understandable human response to something novel appearing in the middle of managing a career. If you draw an org chart, and count the number of people between an idea's originator and the final approver (usually the CEO for breakthrough concepts), you can pretty reliably guess the likelihood that an idea will become a successful product. The irony of course is that the ideas with the biggest potential have the least likelihood of making it to the people who most want to find them.

Paw icon

Pet Show (AKA "Bake Off")

sounds like:

"Lets get everyone's best idea and we'll pick the winner to get funded!”


Imagine a small town. One day a sign is posted saying there will be a "Pet Show" at the local movie theater and the best pet will win a prize! People in town spread word quickly and the excitement grows. They spend money on grooming and fancy collars to make their pets look their best. They practice for hours on end to showcase their pet's talents to try and win the prize. On the day of the showcase the theater is packed and people applaud as the pets strut their stuff. Everyone applauds when a little girl with a poodle wins the blue ribbon. Over the next few days however, the excitement turns sour when word spreads that the little girl is the daughter of the theater owner, and his wife and next door neighbor were the judges! People feel cheated and complain they will never enter another pet show.

Beer icon

Hold my Beer

sounds like:

“You know what would be even better?”


The only thing better than someone's hard work on a great concept, is a forum where their co-workers and superiors can explain all the ways they would do it to make it better! A good ol' contest of egos is exactly what is needed to propel ideas into greatness!

Thumbs Down icon

We'll take it from here

sounds like:

“Very nice work, thanks for bringing this to us, we already have a group that does this type of thing...”
Scared icon

Ghost Story

sounds like:

“We tried that, it totally failed” –or- “The [BOSS] killed a project just like that once, so don't bring it up”
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sounds like:

“...and to do that we invented a new kind of X”
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Help Desk Development

sounds like:

“We have to wait for IT to make the changes”
Stranger icon

Stranger Danger

sounds like:

“It's been years since anyone visited the Lab”
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Clark Kan't

sounds like:

“20% of your bonus is tied to creating new products and innovation”
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Any Minute Now...

sounds like:

“We are going to re-org, soon.”
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Death by Comittee

sounds like:

“The working group will vote on which ideas move forward...”

Innovation Anti-Patterns are copyright 2016 Grant Wood, all rights reserved, and they appear here with his written permission. To discuss a license to use them to compliment your own work please contact KNotion Labs.

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