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Has Innovation Lost Its Meaning?

“…it has reached the point that if you truly want your company to be innovative, the first thing you probably need to do is to ban the word ‘innovation’!”

I fear business innovation has moved from being (first) a business process seriously practiced by a few businesses to (second) being an understood need in the world of business to (finally and currently) being a buzzword that is in great danger of becoming a ridiculous and meaningless word.

A few days ago, I read an article that was supposedly about innovation—but seemed to me to be about market research. While I appreciate that the implementation of ideas that result from learnings from market research might be innovation; the market research is not—unless it is successfully done in a creative new way that generates value to the business. For instance, plugging people’s brains into computers in order to determine what they truly desire, as opposed to what they claim they desire, might be innovative (if it works). But traditional market research is not innovation. It is market research.


Today, I plugged the word “innovation” into a couple of job-search web sites. I found jobs like “Innovation Engineer”, “Innovation Sales Executive”, “Innovation Technologist”, “Director Marketing Innovation” and so on. However, on looking at the prerequisites for these positions, the demands were typical of anyone holding the same position, but without the word “Innovation” in the title. For instance, the Director Marketing Innovation is required to have an MBA and marketing experience. Frankly, if I was looking for an innovative marketing person, I’d be looking for someone without an MBA and with diversified experience, at least half of which had nothing to do with marketing.

But let us face it, these positions have little to do with actual innovation and a lot to do with putting a buzzword in the job title and claiming the hiring company is innovative. “By golly, we’ve got a Director Marketing Innovation, so we must be innovative!” and, indeed, putting a buzzword in a job title is far easier than actually changing the corporate culture to embrace innovation—an action which few companies have done, in spite of their excessive use of the word innovation.


Likewise, some years ago Report 103 was one of the scant few web resources on innovation (it is often called ‘a blog’ but it’s not really). Today, there are gazillions of blogs, newsletters and twitterers writing about innovation. The result is an awful lot of noise and little of practical value. Indeed, few of these writers seem to have read much of the current research related to innovation and instead put forth a lot of assumptions about innovation.

A search on the word “innovation” in Amazon.com results in over 50,000 titles!


That’s all wonderful. But the result is that innovation has stopped being innovative and has become little more than a meaningless buzzword. Indeed, it has reached the point that if you truly want your company to be innovative, the first thing you probably need to do is to ban the word “innovation”!

Then focus on things like striving the achieve your strategic vision through creativity; outdoing the competition by being uniquely better than them; aiming for as much diversity in your thinking, people and actions as possible; and change your world to make it a better place.

Then you can happily succeed (through true innovation) while your competitors wallow in their verbal innovation.

Cover image and top image from Shutterstock

This is a cross-post from Jeffrey Paul Baumgartner.

Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of The Way of the Innovation Master and Report 103, creator of Jenni innovation process mgmt software, founder of jpb.com & father of two great sons. Follow him on Twitter at @creativeJeffrey.

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