You know a big word is in trouble when it’s used repeatedly (inconcievable!) – it means the person saying it doesn’t know what it means or isn’t saying anything at all.
In a recent Ford TV ad, the word innovation is used once every 8 seconds, a sure sign that the i-word has seen better days.
Today the word innovation is a common placeholder – Instead of saying “we are smart”, “we are good” or “we are willing to try new ideas”, messages that can be examined for truth, the word innovation is thrown down ambiguously, as if it were a replacement for having a message, or stating one clearly.
The goal of my
upcoming bestselling book, The Myths of Innovation is to bring honor back to the word by exploring the history of true innovations, and demystifying the breakthroughs of the past and the present.
Along the way I’ve learned some easy ways to diminish innovation hype:
- Challenge the word. Never allow the word to be used in conversation without asking “what do you mean by innovation?”. If it’s not clear to you as a listener how the word is being used, the speaker probably doesn’t know either: call them on it.
- Pick your meaning. Innovation is frequently used to mean one of: something new, something better, something new and better, or something that will win. If that’s what you mean, say that instead. If you’re not sure what you mean, say that, or just keep quiet.
- Avoid compound usage. As soon as you’re throwing hyphens around you know you’re in trouble. Innovation is a strong enough word to stand alone. Replace incremental Innovation, with improvement. Disruptive innovation with big change. Never have a slide or diagram that depends on multiple uses, with different meanings, of the same word (tip: you can use the words incremental and disruptive on their own – they’re grown up words too).
- Remember Edison. Most great innovations took place before there were business books on the subject. Edison didn’t need an innovation pipeline or an innovation infrastructure to invent the phonograph or perfect electric lights, and you don’t either. Somehow Da-Vinci, Tesla, and Picasso innovated without using the word: you and your company can too. Edison laughed at the hype-mongers, cursing rule makers and secret seekers, preferring to work hard at creating things rather than just talking about it.
- Competence trumps innovation. If you suck at what you do, being innovative will not help you. I don’t care how innovative Burger King might be, their food sucks. Business is driven by providing value to customers and often that can be done without innovation: make a good and needed thing, sell it at a good price, and advertise with confidence. If you can do those 3 things consistently you’ll beat most of your competitors, since they are hard to do: many industries have market leaders that fail this criteria. If you need innovations to achieve those 3 things, great, have at it. If not, your lack of innovation isn’t your biggest problem. (See Good Beats Innovative Nearly Every Time)
- Call bullshit. Asking for examples kills hype dead. Just say “can you show me your latest innovation?” Most people that use the word don’t have examples – they don’t know what they’re saying and that’s why they’re addicted to the i-word. Keep pressing and most hype-philes concede what they’re doing isn’t new. The fastest way to detect BS is to look at facts and at the present. True innovators rarely need the word: they just show their work.