The Mad World of Innovation…

8 04 2009

alberteinsteinI believe it was Albert Einstein who once said that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. So I feel I’m in good company as I observe the sheer insanity of companies and the way they “embrace” innovation.

I’ve been watching several people I know Twittering and Blogging their observations from several innovation conferences recently and it finally dawned on me what’s been missing: anything at all new.

All the “big” takeaways, “noteworthy” points, and otherwise shareable insights have quite simply all been seen and done before. They’re all rehashed observations and reinvented wheels – some of which have been out for over 10 years – Which brings up the question – Is there a lack of innovation or originality in the innovation practice itself?att34707

Maybe – maybe not – but I refuse to believe that there aren’t areas of innovation thought and practice that are still ripe for exploration and innovation of the core processes themselves. Instead, let me point the finger at a different potential culprit – organizational ignorance in picking their leaders.

As someone who’s been in the job market for senior innovation roles for a while now – it’s been interesting to note that most job opportunities that have crossed my desk seem to end in one of two ways:

1) The company decides to hire someone internal despite a lack of any internal innovation skills or experience, believing that the right person will simply learn the necessary process expertise quickly enough to make it all work.

2) or otherwise the company decides not hire anyone at all due to budgetary cuts/changes in corporate priorities.

The second option implies a serious lack of understanding as to the power and importance of innovation – especially with regards to making sure the company has a future – or even a present for that matter. Even in a downturn as bad as the one we’re experiencing now – one would expect for companies to shorten the time horizon for innovation processes to deliver results – but not to eliminate them altogether – that’s just crazy. To be fair, most of the ones that have ended like this have ended with an intention to revisit this “innovation concept” again in the future – but that’s still pretty dumb, as the situation won’t get any better until you make core changes, until you change the rules of the game to better suit your strengths, until, in short, you innovate your way out of it.

wrong way sign

However – I put to you that the first option is just as bad if not worse – as it implies that there is little or no value in innovation process expertise – despite all evidence to the contrary as to how tricky it can be to balance the rapid achievement of organizational goals with the engagement of social and human capital needed to fuel the innovation process. They would rather take someone who “understands the company” and attempt to teach them how innovation works than the other way around. I don’t know about you, but outside of certain government entities who don’t understand themselves how they get anything done – I don’t know of any company that is that complex that you can’t pick it up in a few weeks – are they trying to say that learning how to put together a comprehensive innovation program that engages the value chain and social networks as a whole to driving new sources of value that will generate results for the organization is easier than that?? Doesn’t make sense to me – but then again, I’m not the one making those kind of calls. For now at least..

The result then, is a continuous stream of new innovation “leaders”, making the same mistakes over and over again – and coming up with the same results (or lack of them) and “insights” repeated over and over again. There are plenty of good innovation people out there – plenty with the knowledge, expertise, and ability to not only make an innovation program work – but to make it excel and deliver massive results. It’s no wonder that the companies that invest heavily in innovation are the ones who thrive and survive – they’re the ones who value the process expertise over industry expertise.


So here’s my wakeup call Corporate World – industry expertise counts for little or nothing in the innovation game! In fact – it can even frequently be a hindrance. It puts walls up where they might not need to be; tells you what you “can and can’t do”; what “will and won’t work”– it can be, and frequently is, in short, a barrier to innovation – the very thing you’re trying to achieve.

As a result, we get what we’ve been seeing on the conference circuit – a steady stream of people relatively new to the subject who are trying to assimilate the complexities of innovation and social networks from scratch – and as a result –progress in the innovation industry has been handcuffed – and corporate results with innovation have been mediocre at best as these people make the same mistakes all over again that the previous generation made – reinventing the wheel over and over again…

As Gary Jules sang: “I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take, When people run in circles it’s a very very…Mad World, Mad World”…please stop running in circles everyone..

comments, as always, are very welcome.. 🙂



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