(2/4) The Nonsense Surrounding Innovation

Zuloaga ImatgeArtículos, Blog English, Jay RaoLeave a Comment

Happy August!

In my last post, I gave you a brief introduction to my recent book (in Spanish) – “Innovation 2.0: Why do we forget about the people when we talk about innovation? A practical way to create a culture of innovation.

Libro innovación

As I said in my previous blog, I will be giving several snippets / highlights from the book over the next few months. In this blog I will briefly introduce some of my own observations and some background research to support my thesis about what I call “the nonsense surrounding innovation.”

There is little doubt that the word “innovation” has become one of the biggest management fads in the last decade. The term has become overused to the point of tedium. In any given year, on average, I am in front of about 1000 or more executives and senior managers; this is in addition to the 250+ MBA students. For the last 5 or 6 years, at the very outset of all my discussions / meetings, I have consistently asked my audience the same question: “how many of you are sick and tired of hearing the word innovation within your firms?” And, consistently a good percentage of the audience’s hands go up. When asked why, the responses are also quite predictable:

  • There is a lot of talk and very little action
  • We are asked to be innovative, but never given the room and/or the resources
  • When quarterly results are missed, all innovative projects are shelved
  • Even if it is business as usual, it is labeled as innovation
  • Executives want us to be innovative but few explicitly lead and manage it

In the last 5 to 7 years, there are several surveys from reputed sources (Booz, McKinsey, IBM etc.) that support my own experiences: (1) CEOs and Executives are frustrated with their efforts to jumpstart innovation initiatives; (2) there is overall dissatisfaction with the dismal outcomes of their innovation efforts; (3) Mimicking best practices have been often ineffective; (4) resources and processes applied are either underutilized or not achieving scale to have a financial impact; (5) many firms manage innovation on an ad hoc basis; (6) even organizations that have seriously committed to innovation are only achieving partial results because of their over reliance on idea generation software and premature use of rigid processes and, (7) employee dissatisfaction around innovation is also very high; among others.

In my own experience, it is not just the large, global 1000 firms that are struggling with innovation. Innovation naiveté is rampant among executives, managers and employees in firms of all sizes. At the same time, a lot has been written and talked about Innovation. Experts and executives often talk about these in conferences and invited talks. Academics, practitioners and consultants write about them all the time. Yet myths and confusion persist. Typical myths include:

  • Innovation is invention
  • Innovation is just for the R&D folk
  • Innovation is about technology
  • Innovation is just about products
  • Innovation is new product development
  • Innovation does not work in my industry
  • Innovation is just for firms like Apple, Google & Facebook
  • Innovation does not work in my country
  • Innovation is luck
  • Innovation is expensive
  • Innovation is about giving everyone 10% time off to do their own thing

Even well-meaning and thoughtful executives and managers make comments like:

  • “We are good at innovation but not good at commercializing.”
  • “We don’t need to have HR folk involved in innovation.”
  • “Our scientists talked to the customers and innovated.” [this was the first time their scientists had gotten out into the field]
  • “We are big champions of open-innovation” [the firm seeks customer input in their NPD processes]
  • “Our new product is a paradigm-shift.” [they were just catching up with the rest of the industry; what they meant was that the product was ‘new to the firm’, not ‘new to the industry.’]

What we are seeing here is the overuse, the misuse and the abuse that surrounds innovation. And, this is only compounded by blatant illiteracy among rank-and-file in managment.

Do you see your colleagues roll their eyes when the word “innovation” is mentioned at work? How much innovation nonsense do you see in your workplace? Why are firms struggling with innovation? Why is there still such rampant ignorance about innovation?

Please share your thoughts and experiences.

In my next blog, I will discuss “The Discipline of Innovation.”


Jay Rao

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