Monday, August 31, 2009

The once and done innovator

The more I read on blogs, news sites and Twitter (especially), the more alarmed I become that innovation has lost all of its meaning. Too often we see people point out innovation "examples" that seem more likely to have been accidents or one time events that demonstrate that even a broken clock is right twice a day. By placing too much emphasis or spotlighting events that aren't really innovation, we place a lot of good work at risk.

Too often the examples are arcane instances of happenstance, or the last gasp change by a firm that had no other options, or some really wacky new product developed on a whim. That's a shame, since it treats innovation as a sideshow or a circus project, done for the illusion and then let's get back to the serious work. Too few innovation articles show all of the real work that goes on behind the scenes in firms with mature innovation processes and programs. It's as if new and interesting products just happen. Rather, many of them are the outcome of good thinking, watching trends, identifying opportunities, creating competing solutions and bringing something entirely new to market. When we focus only on the end solution, we give management teams the excuse to believe that innovation is quick, simple and easy. Rather, most innovation is long and challenging. If it weren't so, we'd have literally thousands of interesting new products and services confronting us each day.

It's time for those of us who write about, talk about and actually do innovation work to come clean and communicate the "science" behind innovation. Innovation is not a sideshow, not a distraction for the masses but ultimately core to any firm's long term success. If innovation is important over the long term, why would any management team consider it a sideshow? If generating new products and services is important, why wouldn't we invest in that capability?

Yes, I am a consultant and yes, I make a living helping firms innovate. So, yes, my life is easier and incomes possibly higher when firms buckle down and consider innovation as a repeatable, sustainable process rather than a quick brainstorm or two and one somewhat interesting product. But the latter is simply not sustainable, not innovation and a distraction or sideshow from what the business really does. We need to convince executives to make innovation what the business really "does" and then we'll turn loose the real creative power of this economy.

So, if at all possible, let's focus on the innovation successes by all means, but let's also point out the effort that went into making those innovation successes a reality.
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posted by Jeffrey Phillips at 5:47 AM


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