Commentary: Overusing the word innovation

Half the time when someone mentions the word innovation in a meeting I recognize that they are usually are ignorant about the invention process. At some point in the early 2000s, the term stuck and as this Wall Street Journal article points out, we are in an innovation bubble in terms of how people describe their companies and their initiatives.

I would love ranking of innovation initiatives based on their riskiness and outcomes, it could teach a lot of us about how to really use that word.

The WSJ:

Scott Berkun, the author of the 2007 book “The Myths of Innovation,” which warns about the dilution of the word, says that what most people call an innovation is usually just a “very good product.”

He prefers to reserve the word for civilization-changing inventions like electricity, the printing press and the telephone—and, more recently, perhaps the iPhone.

Mr. Berkun, now an innovation consultant, advises clients to ban the word at their companies.

“It is a chameleon-like word to hide the lack of substance,” he says.

Mr. Berkun tracks innovation’s popularity as a buzzword back to the 1990s, amid the dot-com bubble and the release of James M. Utterback’s “Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation” and Mr. Christensen’s “Dilemma.”

The word appeals to large companies because it has connotations of being agile and “cool,” like start-ups and entrepreneurs, he says.

I went to the Google ngram viewer and made this visualization (click to expand).

How do we fix it? At the lab we strive to move away from this

in which a universe of Post-Its leads the logic of how the universe functions. At least that’s how it feels in these situations, regardless of how smart the experts in the room are filling out these little guys. Post-It notes and whiteboards have their place. I love whitebaords. I use corkboard.me to get share some ideas and I still draw a lot.

Drawing and post-its can’t replace the physical interaction with your ideas. This type of pop-up lab prototyping on the workbench, or in the conference room, sets the agenda straight about what’s possible, what’s boring, and what’s radical. That’s when we create innovation portfolios that are worth inventing.

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