In the fall of 2025, a group of managers gathered for a strategic planning meeting. They had been looking forward to this all year long. What had started as an experiment with a small group back in 2010 had caught fire due to its enormous success and was now replicated across various business units and product teams. Everyone wanted to take a stab at killing CompliCo, or at least a division of it. The meeting had gotten more challenging every year as CompliCo shored up its weaknesses, but this group believed it was up to the task. Participants came prepared with diagrams, analyses, and even video presentations. Surely they would find some way to take CompliCo down.
Jack, a patent attorney from the Legal Department, eagerly kicked off the meeting. CompliCo’s patents were strong, he pointed out, and in the last seven years the company had become top in the industry in terms of research spending. While it would be difficult to beat CompliCo’s current track record, Jack knew that having the most patents doesn’t make a company bulletproof. Jack strongly suggested that they should go on the offense and take CompliCo by surprise. He thought that “virtual packaging” would be an excellent area to place their bets. Being a leader in virtual packaging could change everything! People in the room loved the idea. “Add it to the kill list,” they encouraged him.
Lindsey from Human Resources reflected on CompliCo’s smart talent strategy. Beginning in 2015, CompliCo had focused on hiring more international employees with degrees in “alternative” material sciences. These employees had continually provided a fresh perspective to the company and helped fuel the new product line—ForEvaFresh—that made CompliCo a real tour de force. Tenure at the company had increased as well, with the average employee staying on for more than thirteen years. While they couldn’t easily steal people from CompliCo because loyalty was high, they could heavily recruit younger talent to pump new energy and creativity into their own organization. They could also do whatever it took to earn a reputation as an exciting, résumé-enhancing place to work.
As usual, the whiteboard filled up with ideas on how to attack CompliCo’s real and perceived weaknesses and subsequently bring down the company. And, as usual, the company was proud of its ability to aim a critical eye where it was potentially exposed. After all, the team in the room was CompliCo, and they had learned long ago that it’s better to innovate before your competition out-innovates you.
The Kill the Company experience today was certainly different from the day that a small group first started this annual tradition over fifteen years ago. And why shouldn’t it be? Back then, teams were demoralized and defensive after watching their company grow lame and weak, having fallen behind after years of resting on the laurels of its existing product line and falling short on new market introductions. The place was thick with a culture of complacency and few people felt they could do anything to make a difference—it was difficult enough just to keep up with their e-mail. This Kill the Company exercise had been the employees’ first real opportunity to break free from that reality.
Managers realized after their first Kill the Company experience that thinking from the outside in was far more provocative than relying on the view from the inside. Highlighting weaknesses from a competitor’s perspective helped create a burning platform and started real dialogue about what issues were holding them back. People started to ask more interesting, thought-provoking questions to get at why barriers existed and what the ideal solutions could be. Additionally, people embraced innovation inside the company walls by killing outdated processes.
As Kill the Company became a yearly tradition, people at all levels felt a shift in the culture and began to feel empowered in their work. Managers took it upon themselves not to upend the system, but to introduce small changes with immediate feedback and impact, like ten-minute meetings, empowerment jams, and asking customers Killer Queries to gain new insights. People’s behavior changed as they shifted from a complacent stance, solely focusing on providing consistent processes and output, to a more proactive one, open to learning and experimentation. In fact, the company’s metrics for success evolved as well, including:
• External partner contribution to new product development
• Rules and processes killed annually
• Repurposing of intellectual property and technologies across multiple divisions
Once the ball got rolling, there was no turning back.
We can talk about being innovative and creative all day long, but until we look under the hoods at our own companies and examine the structural elements that are hindering employees’ abilities to question and challenge and think, we’re not going to get results. To fuel innovation in today’s organizations, we all need to change how we think about work, how we measure the benchmarks of productivity, and how to let individuals and the company better reach their potential overall.
For many of us, 2025 seems far away—more than fifty quarterly earnings reports between now and then, to be exact. But isn’t this a shortsighted frame of mind? Do you want a mindset of quarters and reports, or one of impactful ideas and inspired change? I founded my company on the belief that everyone can be innovative. And I try to practice what I preach by continually testing new ideas and remaining open to change—even if that means giving up a part of the business into which I’ve poured my blood, sweat, and tears—to create space for something potentially better. I can attest to the value of Kill the Company, because, in a way, I’ve done it with my own business.
I originally intended futurethink to be a publisher of innovation research, offering reports that clients could use to educate themselves on topics related to innovation. Rather than providing consulting services that require manpower, my dream was to make money in my sleep by selling annual subscriptions to my information. In the beginning, the business was good but not great. I knew I needed to change something, but I really didn’t know where to start.
So I did what most of us are taught to do in this situation: a competitive review, market research, and data analysis. But still no epiphany. At that point, I decided to seek advice from an eclectic group of colleagues, mentors, and clients. After reading all my research and competitive intelligence, a client I had known for years told me plainly, “This research that you pulled together is comprehensive, but it doesn’t give me any answers on how to solve your challenge.” He followed that up with a few provocative questions: “Instead of chasing research endlessly, why not think about what would put you out of business? What are customers buying to help them innovate instead of your offerings? What would you love to do but are too scared to even think about?”
It would be many years before I realized how profound that conversation was. With those questions in mind, I went on to transform the company through difficult but necessary actions: significantly cutting back on my research offerings, creating a variety of training courses, and hiring an entirely new team. By taking a hard look at what wasn’t working and eliminating what was no longer needed, I essentially killed my own company. Today we are one of the largest providers of innovation training in the world, which wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t learned to let go and try something new. While the business has evolved, the guiding vision has stayed true. Everyone can be innovative and create positive change, and it’s my job, and my team’s job, to provide ways to help accomplish it. When it comes to your work, product, or business, what do you want to believe in?
Fulfilling your business’s—and your own—potential is more fundamental than a business imperative; it’s a personal imperative. Most of us are driven by a need that transcends annual reports, product reviews, or planning meetings. We are fulfilled when we make an impact, or when something makes an impact on us. The companies and people we associate with and the projects and teams we manage come and go, but we seek meaning in each of those experiences.
I wrote this book to help people address what’s holding them or their company back in a better, more productive way, and to inspire them to realize that your title doesn’t determine your ability to affect change and make a difference. You can start to make an impact now. Be curious and ask interesting questions. Try doing something a new way and gauge people’s reactions. Eliminate a hassle to create space for change to happen.
Killing the company, and all the transformation that comes with it, is meant to open us up to new potential. It identifies and attacks the business-as-usual mindset that we are mired in every day, and enables us to think bigger—which is what all successful businesses, and individuals, do. Once we’re better able to embrace provocative problem solving, creative thinking, and smart risk taking, we have the opportunity to create something that’s not focused simply on efficiency, but on greatness. The business that arose in my original company’s place is nothing like what I thought it would be, yet it’s everything I dreamed of.
Ultimately, it’s never too late. Your journey toward positive change and greater innovation started when you opened this book and read the first sentence. Creating a better future starts now.