Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Innovation is Dead"

There's nothing more interesting and dare-devilish (is that a word?) than making a declarative statement that something is "dead". I guess Wired Magazine can get away with the wired/tired/expired meme, but to come out and declare something as over and done with, especially something as vital and interesting as innovation, that takes guts. Or perhaps the author is being provocative? Anyway, Bruce Nussbaum wrote at the end of 2008 for Businessweek that innovation is dead - transformation is in. Something like declaring gray as the new black.

In my experience, when the cognoscenti declare something as "dead", they are moving past it because to them it has become passe or uninteresting, while generally the early and late majorities are just becoming aware. I suspect that is the case with "innovation" as far as Bruce is concerned - he's covered it for years and may be getting a bit tired of the phase. Interestingly, there's no definition of "innovation" that he provides, and one could easily argue that the word, and its meaning, have been definitely misused in many instances. Corporate America speaks to Wall Street about innovation - I think there are at least 10 taglines in the Fortune 500 that include the word innovation - but most firms have yet to fully embrace the power or capability that innovative tools and techniques can provide. Additionally, if "innovation" as defined as tools and techniques to create new products and services is dead, then is there no longer any need for new products, new services or organic growth? In this instance, the declaration reminds me of the individual who proposed closing the US Patent Office at the turn of the 20th century. He was convinced there was nothing left to discover.

I think we can safely say that the need to discover new market opportunities and craft new products, services and business models still exists, with perhaps more urgency than ever before. I think we can also safely say that there are proven methodologies, tools and techniques that can provide insight and creativity, if organizations are willing to use them. If Bruce prefers to call these functions "transformation" rather than "innovation" so be it. I can be a transformation consultant. What's gotten confused is the label and the outcome. I doubt anyone would argue that businesses still need to be creative and generate new products and services and target unmet or undiscovered customer needs. What I think Bruce is reacting to is that the word "innovation" has been used to make empty promises to shareholders, and has been bandied around so much that it has lost credibility. However, there are plenty of firms that are engaged in innovation activities that are creating value for their businesses. The fact that some CEOs used the word but did not implement its meaning does not mean that innovation is dead.

God help us if innovation is dead. I think the Luddites were convinced that technology was the problem, and Malthus was convinced that humans were the problem. Innovation is not the problem, nor is it responsible for many of the problems we face. Quite the contrary, in the tools, techniques and thinking models of innovation lie the answers to our problems.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 10:28 AM


Blogger ChrisFlanagan said...

Well said Jeffrey. Refreshing to see that not everyone has moved on. And with "innovation" in our name, BIF would be in big trouble if Bruce is right. :)

And, more interesting than Bruce's post, are the responses to it. Which, to your point, translates to one provocative piece that scored a home run.

Best, Chris

4:04 PM  
Anonymous Frankwin van Dieren said...

Most definitions of innovation, like the European Union's one, as defined in the Lisbon Treaty, would include transformation as part of innovation. The fact that companies seem to focus on transformation proyects, at the cost of product innovations, can be explained by the increased uncertainty through the credit crunch induced economic crisis. Transformation is internal, and gives corporate leaders the feeling to be in control. Not like product innovations, where the evil outside world seems to be unpredictable. Most companies lack consumer insight, which makes product innovation a hazardous activity. I would argue that innovation, including transformation, is the main way out of the economic crisis. Long live innovation!

3:28 AM  
Anonymous J. Huisman said...

I guess the use and misuse of the word innovation leads to claims like "Innovation is dead". But like you stated in your blogpost, many companies are creating value for their business by being innovative. I actually just wrote a blogpost on the way Google innovates:

9:09 AM  
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