The Innovation Vortex for Critics and Haters (Change by Diversion)

Jurgen Appelo
5 min readFeb 6, 2019



It seems that the article about my new Innovation Vortex made quite a splash. Thousands of views, hundreds of claps, and dozens of compliments from people who agree with me that the Design Thinking and Lean Startup visualizations need some improvements.

However, there were also critics and haters.

  • “It hurts my eyes.”
  • “Too complicated.”
  • “Buzzword bingo.”

The replies from critics and haters made me learn something valuable. And it’s not what they intended!

Four Core Improvements

But let’s start at the beginning. In my original article, I offered four reasons to improve the visualizations of Design Thinking and Lean Startup. I think their visual models are broken:

  1. The pictures look sequential/waterfall. I think they should be circular.
  2. They miss an explicit step for context, which I consider essential.
  3. They miss an emphasis on continuous improvement.
  4. I think the goal should be innovation and not design or lean.

Furthermore, I believe that the metaphor of a vortex of streams, in which everything can happen at the same time, is more accurate than a circle of discrete and distinct steps.

When I merge the traditional Design Thinking and Lean Startup visualizations, and I apply my suggested improvements, we get this picture:

The Innovation Vortex, without bells and whistles

It is an Innovation Vortex of seven streams of work, which include focusing and learning.

However, the simple picture above is not the one I showed in my original article. Why stop there? I was on a roll and I made some additional changes:

  • I like colors, so I made the vortex very colorful.
  • I am a writer, so I played with the words to make it a bit more “poetic”.
  • I realized that you could use the new model as a self-assessment tool, so I divided it into three concentric rings indicating last week, last month, and last quarter, and I added white circles that allow people to mark the sections easily.
  • I added explanations around the picture so that people can perform a self-assessment of their innovation practices with their teams.

Notice that none of these additional bells and whistles have anything to do with my four suggested improvements. I just went overboard with embellishments and turned my simple model into a party picture. And then I published it.

The article received hundreds of likes, claps, shares, and retweets across all social channels, and it got some criticism. The criticism came in two forms:

“It’s nothing new.”

No matter how often I wrote that I love both Design Thinking and Lean Startup, no matter how often I said that I only want to improve the way these methods are visualized, some people interpreted my article as a criticism of the techniques themselves. Indeed, I add nothing to what great design thinkers or lean startuppers are already doing. The only thing I did was to make an improved picture that better visualizes what Design Thinking and Lean Startup should be all about. There is no need for any design thinker or lean startupper to feel attacked by me unless they are the ones who have drawn the original pictures.

“It’s too complicated.”

It turns out that most of the criticism on my article was about the unnecessary bells and whistles that I added to the visualization. Indeed, maybe I should have just shown the simple version without the additional colors, arrows, layers, and descriptions. None of that is needed to describe continuous innovation. But when I offer the Innovation Vortex to people as a self-assessment tool (which they love!), then they require a bit more than just a barebones black-and-white picture. Clearly, these bells and whistles served as a distraction for those who were looking for something to disagree with.

What I Learned: Change by Diversion

The fact is that nobody, and I really mean nobody, has offered any valid arguments against the four improvements I provided in my original article. All criticism (aside from the misinterpretations) was aimed at the bells and whistles and not at the core improvements. I guess I deserved that, and it is easily addressed by just showing the simple black-and-white version which does a fine job of improving upon the standard visualizations. But, it also looks a bit dull.

Which version do you like better?

I have some basic marketing talents. I am pretty sure that the colorful party picture is precisely the reason why so many people shared, liked, and retweeted my article. The statistics page of my blog went through the roof. It pleased many eyes but at the same time, it offended a number of purists.

But I learned a valuable lesson about change.

Haters are going to hate. Critics are going to criticize. Any valid improvements you suggest will trigger a response from personal, organizational and cultural immune systems.

I now realize that adding embellishments to your improvement suggestions could be a great tactic to divert the attention of the critics and the haters. The bells and whistles will distract those who dislike any attempt to make things better. The irrelevant additions will give them something to sink their teeth into. You can intentionally introduce a change with horrible colors so that the laggards will be able to say, “I hate the colors!” And then, as a follow-up, you can say, “OK, that’s interesting feedback. Thanks. If you prefer, we can do the change without the colors.” And then the critics and the haters will have already spent their energy on your distractions. We could call it Change by Diversion.

My thanks to everyone who offered feedback, misguided or not. I feel I get better at this every day.



Jurgen Appelo

Successful entrepreneur, Top 100 Leadership Speaker, Top 50 Management Expert, author of 4 books, junior in humility.

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