“Innovate or die” goes the business mantra. Embrace creativity or you and your company will fall by the wayside and wither into insignificance.
A leisurely skim through a couple of dozen TV commercials, print ads and online banners will reinforce the notion — we are surrounded by innovators.
Absolutely everyone is innovating: Subway innovates with a new type of sandwich; Campbell Soup innovates by bringing a new blend to market more quickly; Skyy vodka innovates by adding a splash of lemon flavoring; Mercedes innovates by adding blind spot technology in its car door mirrors; Delta Airlines innovates by adding an inch more legroom for weary fliers; Bank of America innovates by communicating with customers via Twitter; L’Oreal innovates by boosting lashes. Innovation is everywhere and all the time.
Or is it?
There was a time when innovation meant radical, disruptive change: think movable type, printing, telegraphy, light bulb, mass production, photographic film, transistor, frozen food processing, television.
Now, the word innovation is liberally applied to just about anything. Marketers and advertisers have co-opted the word in service of coolness and an entrepreneurial halo. But, overuse of the label and its attachment to most new products and services in general has ensured that its value has become greatly diminished. Rather than connoting disruptive change, innovation in business is no more than a corporate cliché designed to market the coolness or an incremental improvement. So, who needs a Chief Innovation Officer anymore? After all, we are now all innovators.
[div class=attrib]From the Wall Street Journal:[end-div]
Got innovation? Just about every company says it does.
Businesses throw around the term to show they’re on the cutting edge of everything from technology and medicine to snacks and cosmetics. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days.
But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.
Like the once ubiquitous buzzwords “synergy” and “optimization,” innovation is in danger of becoming a cliché—if it isn’t one already.
“Most companies say they’re innovative in the hope they can somehow con investors into thinking there is growth when there isn’t,” says Clayton Christensen, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of the 1997 book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”
A search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows companies mentioned some form of the word “innovation” 33,528 times last year, which was a 64% increase from five years before that.
More than 250 books with “innovation” in the title have been published in the last three months, most of them dealing with business, according to a search of Amazon.com.
The definition of the term varies widely depending on whom you ask. To Bill Hickey, chief executive of Bubble Wrap’s maker, Sealed Air Corp., it means inventing a product that has never existed, such as packing material that inflates on delivery.
To Ocean Spray Cranberries Inc. CEO Randy Papadellis, it is turning an overlooked commodity, such as leftover cranberry skins, into a consumer snack like Craisins.
To Pfizer Inc.’s PFE +0.85% research and development head, Mikael Dolsten, it is extending a product’s scope and application, such as expanding the use of a vaccine for infants that is also effective in older adults.
Scott Berkun, the author of the 2007 book “The Myths of Innovation,” which warns about the dilution of the word, says that what most people call an innovation is usually just a “very good product.”
He prefers to reserve the word for civilization-changing inventions like electricity, the printing press and the telephone—and, more recently, perhaps the iPhone.
Mr. Berkun, now an innovation consultant, advises clients to ban the word at their companies.
“It is a chameleon-like word to hide the lack of substance,” he says.
Mr. Berkun tracks innovation’s popularity as a buzzword back to the 1990s, amid the dot-com bubble and the release of James M. Utterback’s “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation” and Mr. Christensen’s “Dilemma.”
The word appeals to large companies because it has connotations of being agile and “cool,” like start-ups and entrepreneurs, he says.
[div class=attrib]Read the entire article after the jump.[end-div]
[div class=attrib]Image: Draisine, also called Laufmaschine (“running machine”), from around 1820. The Laufmaschine was invented by the German Baron Karl von Drais in Mannheim in 1817. Being the first means of transport to make use of the two-wheeler principle, the Laufmaschine is regarded as the archetype of the bicycle. Courtesy of Wikipedia.[end-div]