Monday, March 08, 2010

Innovation - the word vs. the deed

I have stumbled across an interesting discussion on 'innovation'.

With all surrounding RE:tie especially, it is an area of interest.

These guys are obviously operating at a different plane, but this piece does have some useful links and mayeb thhey might not be too offended by a view from the trenches.

What is Innovation?

As a creator of ideas (‘entrepreneur’ being one who has actually made money from them, hence my following such discussions living in hope of the business lightbulb moment that allows me to claim that title) I have found these threads very interesting, if a tad depressing.

It is clearly accepted that ‘innovation’ is all things to all people, from academics to business leaders to politicians to… the public, and hence loses any real value as a well defined descriptive term.

But exist it does, with entire government departments, corporate divisions and huge funding structures devoted to ‘it’, so it is pretty important to grasp if one is to take advantage of all the opportunities swirling around the rallying cry. In particular if one wishes to bring an idea to fruition as a business.

I am minded of a major pitch I made once for a grant that rejoiced under the title ‘Creative Innovations Fund’. Sadly unsuccessful. But in the spirit of ‘if at first you don’t succeed, find out why and don’t repeat unnecessary errors’ I badgered to find out why.

The answer was long in coming and short in everything, including value, as well as logic: ‘It was too left field and hasn’t been proven’.

My follow-up request for what, precisely was understood for ‘creativity’ and/or ‘innovation’ that was so at odds with mine, remains unanswered.

Suffice to say that I fully appreciate that any fool (mea culpa) can have a great idea, but turning it into an attractive, saleable product/service takes a lot more, with an awful lot more folk getting involved. And if one is lucky enough to manage the rocky waters the gatekeeper community represents, then you might end up with an ‘innovation’ which, in time, simply becomes a branded entity.

My background is advertising, if from the creative side. But the disciplines that career imposes are quite solid. And the basics are pretty clear. Getting a USP is a rare, happy event. Combining it well into an end-benefit proposition pretty much the perfect combo… so long as there is a need.

Sorry to be trite, but I do tend to agree with some notions suggested above that the term has been elevated (or is it debased?) to a meaningless buzz-phrase.

I have had the misfortune to be involved with too many business support entities that are attracted to my companies’ activities but have certainly not understood innovation (or innovators) as I do. And also businesses that talk the talk but really have stopped at that point and allowed rhetoric to take over instead of keeping on and walking.

I was at a packaging event recently to promote a patented, awarded design. The show’s title even had the word ‘innovation’ in it. But I was hard pressed to see any evidence of it anywhere, from the inbound mindset of those on the stands to the products on their shelves and the way they were being promoted… save for the use of the word ‘innovation’. I now have a montage of scores of poster titles using it in all manner of incarnations.

So I hope guys like you can pin an definition of innovation down better than it is currently, such that those who claim to wish to embrace it have better idea themselves of what they seek and how best to find (or be open to it) and, more selfishly, guys like me can grasp what they are looking for and how they like it served up.

For now, a CEO mouthing off stuff in the media when a bunch of middle managers clearly didn’t get the memo on long term seed nurturing over short term bean counting can be… frustrating.


Tim Kastelle said...

Hi Peter - I think that your view from the trenches is very worthwhile, and I think it illustrates some of the difficulties arising from the multiple definitions of the word. Later in the comment thread on Stefan's post, Graham Horton posted his definition that I really like:

"Innovation is the beneficial introduction of something new"

Over the weekend I was grappling with the same topic - I use a definition pretty similar to Graham's. The reason is that innovation is a higher-level category. That said, some of your descriptions of non-innovative 'innovations' don't seem to fit even the fairly broad definition.

I'm an academic (with 15 previous years of experience in industry), but I think that whatever we say about innovation has to square with the experiences of people that are actively trying to innovate like you. So I think it's worthwhile to continue the discussion...

Peter said...


Really appreciate you taking the time to wade through the links and share with me personally here.

Also appreciate your welcoming a grubby squaddie's 2p worth; I was nervous at 'pitching in'.

Interesting that today it coincides with what is pretty much an 'innovation grant', in this case for proof of concept research,looking like it has been approved for me to work with a fellow academic.

Which has reminded me to take up the invitations to contribute what they are seeking that I managed to wangle at that self-same less than inspiring show from a few Heads of Packaging (Innocent, ASDA, Morrisons) to help me convince them!