Food In Canada

Rethinking Innovation

By Peter Henderson   

Business Operations business innovation

Revisiting Tom Peters’ from “Innovate or Die” to “Innovation is Fun”

For years Tom Peters’ was on an “Innovate or Die” soapbox. No doubt his manifestos and engaging presentations helped spark new ways of thinking about business excellence and the role of innovation.


Below are 12 favourites from a 2009 list of his 121 “Innovate or Die: Menu of [Essential] Innovation Tactics,” which would apply to most agri-food and beverage businesses. Even if you have read these “innovation tactics” before, it can be worthwhile to review again.


  1. Innovation is to a large extent a “numbers game”: He-she who tries the most stuff wins. (Astonishingly true.)


  1. Fail to share yields “death penalty.” Sharing-transparency is the innovation organization’s lubricant; therefore those who hoard must get the boot.


  1. Never waste a lunch!! Lunch is five opportunities per week, 220 opportunities per year to get to know interesting outsiders, folks from other functions, customers, vendors, frontline staffers.


  1. Re-invent HR to be a Centre of Innovative People. It’s not that HR has to “support” a culture of innovation. HR must be a chief carrier of the culture of innovation, must model innovative behaviour 100 per cent of the time. An “innovation culture” in HR is arguably more important than an innovation culture in marketing and new product development. Think about it. (Alas, this is ever so rare.)


  1. R&D spending/small projects. Make sure the R&D portfolio includes many one-off, short-term projects. Quite often, these little fellas grow to become the biggest of the big.


  1. Customers on all teams. Customers must pervade our electronic and physical halls. They must especially be part of all innovation teams.


  1. Lousy cross-functional (XF) communication-cooperation-synergy-esprit is often problem number-one in enterprises of all sizes. Thus a culture of innovation is dependent on constant-strategic-executive attention to XF effectiveness.


  1. The excellent project manager is the superstar of the innovation-centric enterprise.


  1. Decentralize. Number-one innovation strategy. Big company. Pretty small company.


  1. Board composition/innovation experience. Boards must ooze with experience in and commitment to innovation. (Most don’t.)


  1. Language matters! Hot language spurs innovation. For example, Steve Jobs says every new product must pass the “Insanely great” standard.


  1. Innovation is fun.


The link to Peters’ free list of 109 more innovation tactics is currently easy to access, via Google.


Innovation can be fun, and lead to greater passion and productivity! Why not inspire yourself and your team(s), by creating your own list(s) of positive terms to describe what being innovative means to you and your division/organization? This can inspire pride and inclusiveness, resulting in greater camaraderie and productivity. You may also nudge some of your team members.


Jack Matson coined the term in the title of a book he wrote in 1981, Innovate or Die: A personal perspective on the art of Innovation. This book was written to provide tools to get out of the Stone Age. Times have changed.


Your feedback is welcome. Please feel free to share your favourite positive “innovation tactics.”

peter henderson

Peter Henderson is a director on the board of the Agri-food Management Institute (AMI). He is also founder and managing director of Ideovation, a Toronto-based growth strategy services company. Contact him at

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