Friday, September 3

What's wrong with "Innovation"?

There's nothing wrong with innovation of course, but there's plenty amiss with the buzz-word "innovation", at least in my humble opinion.

In recent months especially, the word has come to mean all things to all men, which of course results in the total obliteration of any useful meaning. In the last month alone I've seen lazy uses of the term used in place of:
  • Technology invention
  • Product introduction
  • Process simplification
  • Pricing policies
  • Changes of absolutely any type whatsoever, however pedestrian ... and even
  • Triumphs of marketing disguising a complete absence of change!

This is perhaps the natural consequence of excess hype, and I've seen similar problems occur in my industry with terms like "Cloud", "Service", "Grid" and "Component".

So what shall we use instead?  My preference is to talk about ...
  1. Ideas - We all know what an idea is, and we differ very little in our intuitive understandings of what constitutes one.
  2. Creative thinking - Again, I think we share an intuitive understanding of creative thinking. It's a skill which leads us in unpredictable directions, to outcomes which might not be reached using a purely analytical train of thought.
  3. Imaginative thinking - An alternative to "creative thinking" but perhaps a little too wedded to the root word "image".
In using these alternative terms we're preventing the audience from leaping at a wide range of conflicting preferred definitions, and demanding instead that they suspend judgement whilst we explain.

I'm rather fond of "lateral thinking" too. This term was coined by Edward de Bono, but actually refers to a rather specific set of techniques, so might be better avoided for general purposes.  "Inspired" sometimes suggests luck, and the best "original" ideas are often anything but!

So when is it still useful to use the "i" word?  Often the best way to reach customers is to use their adopted language, and "innovation" seems to be the preferred term.  By all means launch a new conversation on "innovation", but quickly seek to convert your correspondents to something more concrete.

In recent weeks I've probably exercised this little diatribe almost every day with colleagues. By blogging I hope I can reduce that rate in future.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting to see that a very similar rant was posted back in February in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. I came upon this just now quite by chance at