I’m confident in this advice: Stop using the word innovation. Just stop. Right now. Commit to never saying the word again. Einstein, Ford, Leonardo da Vinci, Picasso, Jobs and Edison rarely said the word and neither should you. Every crowd I’ve said this to laughed and agreed. The I-word is killing us.
Pretentious words like gamechanging, breakthrough, radical, paradigm-shift, and transformative are used by people trying hard to impress someone. People doing good work let their work speak for itself. Great teams drop pretense in favor of simple words like prototype, experiment, problem, solution, user, customer, lesson and design. Simpler language accelerates progress. Inflated language slows it down and confuses people on what the goals are.
Calling yourself tall doesn’t make you tall. A word is just a word. It’s your actions that matter, not the labels you use.
Unless you are taking the time to ensure everyone in the room uses these words to mean the same thing it’s jargon – the words fails to convey meaning.
There are four things you can do:
- Ask people who use the word what they mean. If ever anyone says innovation in a meeting, ask “Can you give an example of what you mean by innovative?” If they can’t, you’ve just saved the room a ton of time. Often they don’t know: they’re using the i-word as a cop-out for clear thinking.
- Use better words instead. Often people mean one of 1) we want new ideas 2) we want better ideas, 3) we want big changes 4) we need to place big bets on new ideas 5) We want to make a lot more money. Great. Any of those short phrases are more powerful and specific than the i-word. Use them instead.
- The best definition of innovation is: significant positive change. It forces the attention on what kind of positive change you want (better sales? higher quality? more customers?) and how large an improvement you desire (10%? 40%?).
- Ban the i-word from e-mails and internal documents. It’s one thing for marketers to use innovation in press releases. It’s another to let that word cloud up how people making things think about what they’re making. Force your team to be precise and give up the crutch of the innovation word. Reward people who use the word sparingly and find better ways to communicate.
- Just be good – That’s hard enough. Most things made in the world suck. If your company struggles to make a half-decent product, with the morale of a prison, why are you talking about innovation? You have to get the training wheels off before entering the Daytona 500. If you can making something good, that solves real problems, works reliably, is affordable, and is built by a happy, motivated and well rewarded staff, you’ll kick your competitor’s asses. Focus on solving those real problems. If you succeed on those, innovation, in all its forms, will likely take care of itself.
You can’t have innovation by any defition without being willing to take risks. But there is nothing less risky than merely saying a word repeatedly while taking to action.
Breakthroughs are a matter of perspective and if you take a wide view it’s being good that beats innovation nearly every time.