Scott Anthony has a good half-article over at Harvard Business Review where he addresses some of the constraints to innovation within companies, comparing some of the policies or decisions that seem wise in some respect to straightjackets; they do constrain the subject from harming themselves but also constrain them from performing good works too.

There are good points in this article but I it suffers from one of the problems I see in many of these types of “removing constraints to innovation” discussions: it only tells half the story. The other half of the conversation is making optimal use of finite resources such as capital, time, and talent. Removing constraints to innovation is good but no company can conceivably try out all possible ideas. Arguably that’s what the greater economy attempts but even that is finite at any given moment.

Within a company, there does need to be some means of evaluating opportunities a priori and supporting those that are estimated to be most probable. This is why I think conversations about freeing constraints to innovation are generally empty of useful content. These types of articles can help to shift attitudes and ways of thinking but don’t do much for providing useful advice.

The issue isn’t constraints versus no constraints; it is bad policy versus good policy. These bad policy constraints need to be replaced by good policies for how to maximize the probability of success, policies like aggregating wisdom of (knowledgeable) crowds instead of singular decision makers or effectively identifying when to abandon a sinking ship rather than suffer the sunk cost fallacy.

This is why I prefer fully discuss breaking down policies and then building back up, like in my four-part series “Beating the Competition" where I address the problem of policies that focus on competitive advantage instead of creating efficient value, or when discussing "The Problem of Innovation" where much value opportunity is missed chasing trendy techno-fashion and, perhaps minimally, suggesting that good leadership can help to fix the bottom-line, bean-counting problem.

That being said, I will reiterate that Scott makes some very good points for the first half of such a discussion on policies and it is worth a read.