Innovation Incongruence

It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of time for Vance Kearney. He comes across as a really poor listener and I don’t think his arrogance serves him, his colleagues or his customers well. And in the interest of balance it seems I’m in a minority if his fourth placing in HR Magazine’s influential list is anything to go by.

I and others have previously challenged him in response to two articles on HR Magazine. The first where Kearney seems to want to bury his head in the sand and ignore reality and the second where he just seemed to make no sense on engagement being quoted as follows, “I like employees to be engaged and motivated. I like them to be dead and not dead. I don’t think anyone’s ever tested it. There is a lack of rigour around the subject.” The written challenges made to Mr Kearney which he never responded to are now gone. When HR Magazine changed owners recently they tell me that a switch from two servers to one meant they lost all their article comments and discussions. Oops!

So when I learned that Vance Kearney was in a panel discussion at the CIPD conference I ummed and ahhed and decided to give it a miss. He and I rub each other up the wrong way and I had plenty of much more enjoyable stuff to see and do. I kept an eye on the emerging Twitter feed and learned that he chose to insult one of the delegates (disagreement is the food of life, but calling a conference attendee an arsehole is going too far for me). The tweeter may have misheard but something unpleasant was certainly uttered as you can see here over at Jon Ingham’s blog.

In September this year when I spotted Jon had tweeted Vance Kearney had been booked to attend the most recent ConnectingHR unconference I confess I was worried. I don’t care how influential Kearney is I don’t think his rude, arrogant approach sits well in a community focussed set up. For whatever reason he never showed and I for one am very pleased he didn’t.

Kearney also said “No significant innovation has ever come by asking a customer what they want – they will have no concept until you present it to them”. If you Google Oracle Customer Innovation you can see that Oracle were running customer innovation days as recently as last month. Perhaps Kearney should tell the rest of his colleagues they’re just wasting their time and money, or maybe he could just cuss at them instead – I guess that at least is quicker.

I and doubtless many others have spent years innovating with customers. When I worked at BT we innovated with customers on communications and product  solutions to meet their needs, joint sustainability innovation to improve supply chain standards, and plenty of other things too. And more recently we (that’s me and my customers, and their customers) invest time innovating and experimenting with better ways of working together. Sure they don’t all succeed but hey – that’s the point of innovation ain’t it? And of course we innovate without customers sometimes too.

Ask, listen, innovate, execute and repeat. It’s a simple enough process and the ask at the start, yes the bit that Kearney dismisses, is a great place to begin as far as I, and seemingly Kearney’s employers are concerned.


Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

12 thoughts on “Innovation Incongruence”

  1. Hi Doug,

    I do agree with a lot of what you say about Vance. So like you, I also commented negatively on his austerity comments in HR Magazine’s Head in the Sands article (lost in their move from Haymarket to Mark Allen).

    In general however, I support his desire to provoke – something I think we need a lot more of in HR, and think he would have added to Connecting HR’s unconference. (BTW, he did send his apologies that he wasn’t going to be able to come.) Swearing at someone on stage, though hardly audible, was going too far, but when you’re pushing the boundaries you’re going to make mistakes, and I think he’d probably admit that was one.

    In terms of his comments on innovation, he made clear several times this point was about radical innovation, and I’d agree with his comments on this (as I do in my blog post).

    1. Hi Jon, thanks for popping by. I think HR Magazine have made a big #fail losing all those readers comments.

      I’m fine with provocation, I practice it myself quite often, and I admire well thought through provocation. Folks like Neil Morrison, Rob Jones and FlipchartRick among others do provocation very well. On the evidence of previous magazine articles and his CIPD showing Kearney doesn’t, he just shoots his mouth off. That’s not provocation that’s just lacking in thought and rude. On that basis I remain delighted that he couldn’t come to ConnectingHR which is a place of respectful disagreement, among many other good things.

      Regards innovation maybe it all comes down to how you define radical. I disagree with you both on this point, years of experience in sales and relationship management has shown me to never underestimate the power of the customer, or any other stakeholder for that matter, when it comes to aiding innovation.

      Cheers – Doug

    1. Hey Rick – fair cop I should have added a dash of context eh wot. The insult was flung at an unnamed delegate who had the temerity to challenge Kearney on his trumped up charge of ““No significant innovation has ever come by asking a customer what they want”. How dare the conference delegate challenge the might of the all seeing Kearney. To be fair the challenge may not have been all that (I don’t know) but still, I think Kearney’s response speaks volumes about how he considers his peers. Like I said – there are plenty folk out there very capable of provocation in an intelligent and straightforward way. I for one am bored of Kearney getting lauded for ill considered comments which seem to serve his profession poorly and bizarrely, him well.

  2. Like most things in life, he is partly right, but uses the definite article too much, thus closing himself into TOWIK ‘the only way is Kearney’ 🙂

    On innovation, it’s true that lots of products would not be here if they had been researched e.g. The Fender Strat, some Apple products and so on But the opposite is also true.

    Relativism may be frustrating, but is generally wiser than being sure you are right all the time …. 🙂

    Sounds like the gig was good overall. I may consider rejoining CIPD, having left due to my frustration with the centre. Is that a wise move?


    1. Re your membership – id say that if you are prepared to get involved then i would def recommend renewing. The CIPD is going through big change and ‘The Centre’ as you put it is trying to evolve, take it from me. What they need is active engagement with their customers (Did you see what i did there?! 😉 ) like you and me to add to the vocal minority of members who command most of the dialogue. Changes are afoot, and i still believe that the CIPD can and should be the core HR community. It just needs the community to engage and help with the journey.

    2. Nicely put Peter, love the TOWIK and the frustration with relativism. Oh, and the Fender Strat, though I prefer the Gibson Les Paul or a Paul Reed Smith meself 😉

      I think the CIPD is evolving, that fact they invited me to cover the conference is I hope some evidence of that. And as Gareth writes, they need active engagement from customers.

      Thanks as always for your visit and your thought provoking note.

  3. Some interesting comments here and a great post Doug. A few points from me.

    Customer innovation – I worked in CRM consultancy for a few years and can tell you with a high level of confidence that no product innovation was ever created in total isolation from the outside world. The confusion here arises from the difference between knowing what your customers will want and traditional customer research. Steve Jobs didn’t believe in traditional customer or market research (and neither do i really) but he knew what his customers would respond to, at an emotional level. He knew this because he knew his own “internal customer” responses but also because he had seen the markets response to his previous innovations. Apple had a customer ecosystem and he (They) was in touch with that like few other CEO’s.

    Provocation – Innovation in business models requires the conventions of a business model or industry to be challenged. But there is no room for arrogance or rudeness in this. and no excuse for it. I consider myself to be a bit of a maverick and challenger of convention – it probably cost me a job in the past – but nothing ever came from Kearny’s approach to challenge negatively. the moment you do that – you kill innovation. You kill the other persons will to open their mouth.

    I think the session could have been much better without the die in the wool HR leaders as the panel. Would have been far better to have had, say, the COO of Skype talking about how they are using customer communities for product innovation and how this is engaging internal employees in the process.

    As for Mr Kearney, Im saying nothing save draw your attention to the following quote recently brought to my attention by the thoroughly charming @robjones_tring:

    “The fundamental cause of trouble in the world is that the stupid are cocksure while the intelligent are full of doubt.” Bertrand Russell

    Nuff said?!

  4. Interesting thread and comments that followed. I wasnt there but based soley on what i have read here, think anyone who can make a statement disregarding customers is also quite capable of disregarding delegates, to their own detriment.

    And what about all the innovations that come from customers because the corporates are not agile enough or are too risk averse to try producing what customers really want (a good Ted talk by Charles Leadbeater springs to mind here as well of thoughts of Kodaks demise….)

    1. Good day to you Alison. I love the way the random avatar thingie has given you a cheeky wink, sadly it’s not always so kind 🙂

      You’ve raised some great points here – feels like another possible discussion for next week? You’re a good thought provoker thanks.

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