Author Profile Picture

Spencer Holmes

Project Four Consulting Ltd


Read more from Spencer Holmes

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

HowNOT2 Innovate


We reflect on the accidental birth of a business

Innovation is born of a combination of good ideas (often incubated over a long period), happy accidents and a good deal of trial and error The list of breakthroughs  that adhere to these principles is long enough to prove the point, um, the internet for example!

The “HowNOT2” concept is no exception. We’ve been subconsciously mulling this over for years. Little did we know that, as we were filling our many liminal spaces joking about the various management crimes we had witnessed, we were in fact sowing the seeds for a new venture. There were no business plans in sight.

The sequence for us was as mentioned above:

1          “Good” idea – in fact it started as a joke that we decided was a good idea with the benefit of hindsight (although Mike will probably claim it was his cunning plan all along) – the idea / action was to record what we thought would be the worst performance appraisal imaginable then stick it on Youtube

2          Happy accident – much to our amazement, within days the film had amassed c. 50,000 hits. Our friends in the know told us that was significant

3          Tons of trial and error – we have miles of lame attempts lying on the editor’s floor!

And so “HowNOT2” was born and, in our households anyway, the phrase has become a standard prefix to any screw-up “Oh Mr Miliband, that bacon butty was a real “HowNOT2 moment” sort of thing. Of course we have to enjoy the “HowNOT2” moments, or “gaffes” if we are to work our way through to true innovation. We should embrace mistakes, not shy away from them. Et voila – the basis of our business model!

I think there are things we can distill from our early experiences that accord with contemporary views on innovation and business-building:

·      Don’t rush it – actually we’ve been brewing this up a fair while, if your first idea / attempt doesn’t quite work, learn from it and build, don’t abandon

·      Don’t force it – we film when it feels right and avoid setting arbitrary deadlines, you can’t really decide “today is the day I will be innovative”

·      Make accidents more likely – bump into more people, talk about your half-baked ideas, trust others to build upon, not pillage, your genius

·      Disrupt your thinking – as trainers we are often asked for “how to” do certain things but sometimes get better responses when we reverse that idea, with your innovation maybe try thinking about what the opposite of that idea would look like to avoid getting stuck in one channel of thinking too early

·      Do something – innovation requires action as well as thought, our first film was shot on a flip camera propped up on a laundry pile the morning after a very long night. Now, somehow, we have a leading, professional TV guy on board…we had to get started somewhere and so can you

·      Love it – even if yours is “idea of the year” it obviously takes some grunt to make it into something real – if you really love the idea, this part is much easier

So our “HowNOT2 Innovate” video script would look a bit like this: (rush it, force it, avoid risks, copy others and focus in on the original idea only, hold off on any action, grind it out..10% inspiration and 90% perspiration)!

Finally we would like to share this nightmare before Christmas as a fun freebie from us, to you, the discerning TrainingZone reader.

This really happened on 12th December a few years ago.

We’re running a fun competition that we intend to judge on New Year’s Eve in the local. Simply drop us your favourite Christmas related “Gaffe” here and the winner will receive a video of their choice. (or an evening with Mike in character – you decide!) We’re big believers in reciprocation so we’d love to hear from you, After all, as Steven Johnson says in his great talks on innovation – “chance favours the connected mind”

Happy Christmas

18 Responses

  1. I know I have learnt more from my mistakes than anything else

    Great idea Spencer, I think most entrepreneurs would say they have learnt more from their mistakes than any other source of "training" so learning from other people's in a fun but contextual way makes a lot of sense.

    My team are certainly enjoying the Objective Setting and HowNot2 Appraisal videos.

    Looking forward to the growing library


  2. Don’t rush it

    Great article. And you are so right that the best ideas seem to take a while to brew! A lot of the projects that are just coming to fruition now at our company, were first imagined a couple of years ago or more.

    Thanks for the video link – aarggh! painful! Really enjoy the HowNot2 videos, keep up the great 'work'.

  3. Thanks Richard

    Thanks Richard

    Too true – I think sometime the challenge (for example when we run project "lessons learned" sessions, during and at the end of projects), people aren't always willing to "fess up", often linked with the org culture.

    Sounds like wherever you are has a healthy attitude towards innovation, "mistakes" and progress.

    (Thanks also for using our vids!)

  4. Hi Vickytotem!

    Hi Vickytotem!

    I found this a great relief when I first heard Steve Johnson talk about it at TED. I think that maybe our lives and expectations at work are so much about knocking stuff out in short timeframes that perhaps the great ideas stay on the shelf or, worse, disappear from view as they weren't quite ready at the time they first arose. That's why we love sharing as much as we can, especially our half-baked stuff – it's a way of keeping new ideas alive and in sight.

    Great to hear you are seeing long-held dreams to fruition, nothing more exciting! As my French friends would say "Bon Courage" – please stay in touch ūüôā

  5. How Not 2

    This idea has gone from strength to strength.  I've been following your development for a few years now and it's been great to see the content develop from fun amateur to slick professional status.  Every time I use it in the training room it gets both laughs and nods of recognition.  We've all been there either on the receiving end or delivering it!  Looking forward to more!




  6. Thanks Mandy

    Thanks Mandy

    Indeed you were one of our true "Innovators", leading the way on the "adoption of innovation" curve. Brave / foolhardy enough to deploy our expert incompetence in public! We value your involvement in our growing and wonderfully dysfunctional family!

  7. How Not To…

    1. I'm an innovation programme manager at a leading soft drinks firm. What you say is spot on, it's so important that we are open to sharing ideas however crazy some of them may seem to begin with. We have also used "outrageous opposites" to challenge our thinking – it's a great tool. I'll check out your website and perhaps share a gaffe or 2!!"
  8. Hi Scout

    Hi Scout

    A fellow convert – great stuff. I'd love to hear more about outrageous opposites in action – I've seen it create very unexpected results. I've even used with the Audit Commission!

    We look forward to seeing you on the HN2 site

  9. Classic!

    Love the videos. So cgringeworthy! Painful but true stories, happening all round the world on a daily basis.


    Good luck!

  10. Thanks Jake – yes, it’s funny

    Thanks Jake – yes, it's funny how they're quite easy to make (we have plenty of material) but hard to watch (without serious cringing!) Please keep in touch via the website, there are plenty more crimes planned for 2015!!

  11. HowNOT2 Innovate

    A thought provoking piece. I like the clarity and brevity of your lists and the HowNot2Innovate example.

    I agree, one of the great things about this approach is that it encourages us to reflect personally on our own examples of HowNot2, and not just on those of others.

    Have fun down the local.

  12. Thanks John

    Thanks John

    We do encourage a fair bit of reflection, after all, it's not ,ike any of us have managed to avoid our own catalogue of "HowNOT2s" over the years. Anyone who denies it is committing a "HowNOT2" right there. (HowNOT2 lead people by pretending you're infallible!)

    Please keep commenting, feedback is our fuel!

  13. How not 2 and my thanks

    Happy New Year!

    Nice thoughts in your blog – I certainly will ponder on them as I race through life!

    Last year we used (University of Reading) one of your How Not 2 for our new appraisal training. Thanks so much – people loved the videos and it added an extra dimension to the learning,  prompting much discussion and welcome humour.

  14. Thank you Reading Uni –

    Thank you Reading Uni – stimulating a meaningful discussion as a result of our awful antics is what it's all about – please keep in touch, we plan a few rounds of development this year.

    And don't forget to slow down! – he references Universities at minute 12 and I certainly agree with the need to slow down to solve work problems.."connect with your inner tortoise!!"

  15. Love the videos, keep up the good work

    What I like so much about the videos, is that we can all relate to being in similar situations at one time in our lives. The videos are a great way to learn and I like website, simple clear and effective. I will definitely keep an eye out for any of your new videos. Keep up the good work and I wish you all success. Have a great 2015.

  16. Thanks Alan, worryingly you

    Thanks Alan, worryingly you're not the first to say our antics are a little too realistic in parts! As for the website, we like uncluttered and are, in our nature, quite simple!

    thanks for following us and we will certainly be keeping in touch. Now we're over the shock of getting back to work we'll be blogging here again soon..

  17. The How To of HowNOT2

    Hi Spencer and Michael A great article I have been encouraging the team to read it and view the "bad News" video – it's funny now!? Happy New Year by the way

  18. Thanks Martin

    Thanks Martin

    Funny and painful in equal measure I suspect! We really appreciate you having the nerve to inflict this on people you work with although we can not be held liable for any permanently damaged relationships!

    Please keep in touch and have a great 2015

Author Profile Picture
Spencer Holmes


Read more from Spencer Holmes

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!