75. Innovation Vs. Echo Chambers, HiPPOs and ZEBRAs  

Innovation is the process of creating something significantly new that replaces, at least to some degree, old ways. However, old ways are often overseen by experienced people and innovation will always be resisted by some groups. There are a few well-known types:

  • Echo Chambers (also known as Groupthink)
  • Highest Paid Person Opinions (HiPPOs)
  • Zero Evidence But Really Arrogants (ZEBRAs)

You must be able to anticipate these hurdles or the current changes in the distribution channels will consume your company.

Echo Chambers

This term had a recent media spike thanks to a Google employee’s memo entitled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” It went viral in August 2017, fueling political correctness and gender debates. Echo Chamber’s better known corporate synonym is Groupthink.

Groupthink occurs when a desire for consensus, or to please the boss, overrides common sense. The term suggests a closed, insular and out-of-touch-with-reality culture. This phenomenon can be seen in the idea of confirmation bias, in the Emperor’s Clothes, Chamberlain’s appeasing Hitler, the Edsel car, JFK’s Bay of Pigs and countless other real-world examples.


Strategy and culture management are the responsibility of leadership. And, Groupthink will be stronger if executives and management (the HiPPOs) stick to their habits of:

  • Selectively reading, seeing and hearing what reinforces their often data-free or dated experienced-based opinions
  • Surrounding themselves with Yes-People
  • Disagreeing with, firing, or driving away those who offer contrary ideas or bad news

A HiPPO moment happens when in the midst of a new idea discussion the HiPPO offers a data-free opinion meant to be directional, or a final, discussion-ending decision.

Being a frequent HiPPO myself, I try to temper my opinions with something like: “If anyone would like to change my decision, bring me facts. Do an experiment that will prove me wrong, and I’ll back it.” Jeff Bezos of Amazon also promotes a “still disagree, but commit” option.  But, the days of debating data-free opinions with emotionally-biased salesmanship are over. You’d do well to have your credible facts ready for anticipated HiPPO moments.

ZEBRA’s Are Tougher

ZEBRAs aren’t swayed by facts. Their thought process goes something like, “The customers are stupid and don’t know what’s really good for them.” These autocratic bullies claim superior expertise and knowledge and are prevalent among passionate startup entrepreneurs (who often don’t succeed). To meet this challenge, be indispensable and make stuff happen undercover. But, it may be easier to move on.


Digital, living channels and supply chains are eating into the traditional channel ways. “Innovate or die” is not a cliché for distributors. You can learn how to boost your corporate Innovation IQ at this fall’s Advanced Profit Innovation Conference. Hang with innovation and change management professionals both in and out of sessions to take your business to the next level. Come join me in Toronto: October 26 apicconference.ca

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