Belated Happy New Year from the land of Oz everyone! Apologies for the long absence, but as some of you know, my first post-Imaginatik act was to strap myself onto a plane and go off to the other side of the world to follow my other passion – exploring.
I’ve spent the whole of January in Australia, and New Zealand beckons me for February before I return to the cold and snow of Boston (it’s currently around 40C/110F where I am in
Australia…quite a change!). However, with a little time off over the next day or two away from my Lonely Planet Guides, I thought I’d post some thoughts on innovation – which is always on my mind – and indeed, I’ve even met some really interesting innovation people on this side of the world too – and I’ll try and post some of the interesting thoughts from those meetings a little later.
I hope you’ll give me a bit of slack then, as I go off on a slight rant in my first posting of 2009 – I promise you it’s not a sign of things to come 😉
The end of the year, always brings people – and pundits in particular, be they journalists, bloggers, or consultants – a chance to reflect on the past, rationalize the future, and for some, to press the “reset” button as they start new chapters in their lives – “out with the old, in with the new” as they say.
It seems that the innovation world is no different – even from my mini-retirement from Imaginatik, it’s been hard to notice the trend happening recently typified by the recent blog posts Bruce Nussbaum, of Businessweek fame, who has now joined a growing list of pundits, wannabe gurus, and consultants proclaiming the “death” of innovation. Could “Innovation” really be dead?
Of course, on reading further into any of these people’s arguments, they’re quick to admit that the core values, missions, and processes that innovation has embodied these last few years continues to be solid ones. What they’re really complaining about is that the term “innovation” has become overused – and thus from Bruce Nussbaum’s perspective and other consultants – less profitable for them. In its place of course – they suggest new words – words that they will try and coin and in the process become the new gurus of the “Transformation” (in Bruce’s case) movement. And this is where I have a pet peeve with the management world. Increasingly, management thought and theory has become more Chanel than Champy, more Dior than Davenport, more Prada than Porter, in short, more fashion than academic and business discipline, rigor, and accountability.
Bruce and his ilk, as well as consultants, software vendors, and the rest of us (I’d even have to include myself in that list!) survive on the basis of being different in order to be either interesting enough to be read (for journalists) or interesting enough to be bought for a premium price (consultants and vendors). I admit that it’s a necessary and wise move for many markets and for most times – after all if you were in the screw business, the common wisdom is that you need to innovate to change your value proposition in the eye of the consumer so that they will pick your screw over those of your competitors. It’s no longer just a screw – it’s now a “galvanized, rust resistant, all-in-one joint re-enforcement device – now with extra threads!”….
There’s a part of me that doesn’t blame Bruce et al for wanting to change the paradigm in order to keep fresh and keep readers interested – hell, there’s a part of me that hopes he’s successful in pushing a new term that takes some of the inevitable armies of substandard consultants that tend to follow these trends off the business journals. You know who they are – more salesmen than bone fide business advisors and gurus – more interested in making a quick buck by rebranding to fit a trend that to actually care about the long term health of businesses and their clients.
But here’s where my problem lies with this specific change – the world NEEDS innovation right now. With a global recession not only looming but already in full effect (even in Australia, GDP is down, unemployment rates are rising, downsizing occurring, etc) – the one discipline that will change the way things are going is innovation. The World, as a whole, needs to learn how to systematically and predictably manage their ability to change everything about their business – their products, their processes, their business models, even their customers. Call me biased if you will – but I strongly believe that. I’ve seen first hand what innovation can do for companies that are able to embrace a wide vision of possibilities and unleash the power of what Innovation can do.
It’s not a new topic or a fad – any company with any serious longevity has had to embrace major changes in the past – the business environment of our times just demands those changes to be more frequent and faster. It’s not a flawed topic – failures are either caused by companies not fully embracing what needs to be done (which is usually not easy) or not getting proper help and advice choosing instead to go with a cheaper consultant or choosing someone internal to “go out and learn” believing it to be a simple and easy game to play. In short – it’s not innovation that’s flawed – it’s how companies have gone about it that has been flawed. They haven’t understood what’s really possible – they haven’t understood the impact that it could have – and as a result they handicap the process from the outset.
The headline grabbing attempts of a few wannabe gurus proclaiming the death of innovation isn’t going to help anyone. It just leads to confusion in the corporate world and ultimately will lead to companies stalling or abandoning innovation-type efforts altogether for fear of failure or a lack of understanding of the importance of innovation to the business.
Bruce et al – I won’t be backing down from this! Innovation is of key importance to the US, to the West, to the World and you know it! There are times to be different and there are times to band together and push what we all know is in the better interest of the world. There are times, Bruce, when you just need to let a screw be called a screw. It may be boring for you to keep on writing and lecturing on company after company embracing and succeeding with innovation efforts – but success is success – and right now America, and the World, needs to believe, to embrace innovation, and to succeed.