Is Innovation Simply a “Buzzword”

I have been involved in the area of innovation for more than 25 years, both as an innovation strategist and as an inventor. About a decade ago, “innovation” became the new buzzword, like “synergy” or “solutions” or “value added.” Major consulting firms took advantage by using a smart policy of offering what customers wanted to hear. They’ve created a range of reversed-engineered innovation systems to sell to their clients. The systems are reversed engineered in the sense that the innovation is created from the risks that these companies have to manage. They were designed to be extremely attractive to large risk-centric companies. Today, there are as many as 800 different forms of innovation best practice. Do I have to point out the irony in that number?

So what do these consulting firms do? It’s simple. They create a risk-management system, but call it an innovation-management system. Their clients get to tell their bosses that they’re innovating, while at the same time, they don’t need to take any risks. This can only be described as “corporate crack.” This is the perfect combination of a brand initiative that has the no risk benefits of a risk management system. In most cases, it amounts to a rebrand. The clothes may end up different, but the organization stays the same. The problem is . . . there is a cosmic rule of the universe that states that there is always a direct correlation between the proportion of risk to the proportion of reward. Take away the risk and most of the time, you take away the reward.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. Sometimes organizations use old-fashioned new product development risk-management tools and because of their brand positioning, they are able to have a breakthrough success. In the fast-moving economy, however, I wouldn’t bank on this method.

What makes more sense is to identify ways to invent value by going after real insights across customer nodes and touch points throughout a journey. This value is derived from leveraging the trajectory of change within technology and other market factors.

What I’m saying here is that inventing takes guts and brains. Brains alone won’t cut it. As Einstein once said, “Insight is not a cure.” I take this to mean that knowing something doesn’t get you where you need to go. It’s deploying according to that insight that drives breakthrough innovations.