Innovation: An over-used, little-understood term

As I watch companies tout their latest “innovations,” I’ve come to the conclusion that the term “innovation” is being grossly over used. Despite all of the organizations that claim they’re innovative, or that their products or services are innovative, few actually are. Here’s what I mean: I’ve seen many companies claim that their products embody […]

As I watch companies tout their latest “innovations,” I’ve come to the conclusion that the term “innovation” is being grossly over used. Despite all of the organizations that claim they’re innovative, or that their products or services are innovative, few actually are. Here’s what I mean:

I’ve seen many companies claim that their products embody “innovative” new features or that they remain committed to “innovation” when introducing a new product that’s actually just a “line extension” — an incremental improvement to an existing product. “Innovation” seems to be on the “jargon du jour” list of leaders and marketing executives these days. I’ve discovered this because I search the Web every week, looking for the latest news stories and articles about innovation for my “Innovation in the News” e-newsletter. There’s a lot of innovation “noise” out there, mainly focused on these so-called “innovative” new products and services. True innovations represent the needle in the haystack during my Web searches, the lone “signal” in the midst of a lot of “noise” about innovation.

The truth is, becoming truly innovative requires a sustained vision on the part of an organization’s leadership and its employees. It takes a long time to change decades of cultural norms and employees’ habitual behaviors in the average large company these days, sort of like trying to turn around a large ship. With CEO and senior management turnover happening at an increasing rate these days, it’s a miracle that some companies actually do succeed in becoming powerfully innovative – companies like 3M and Charles Schwab, which give us hope that it is, indeed, possible to embed innovation as a core value, and to reap the results that it offers.

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