Innovation sure isn’t what it used to be. Oh, interesting things are still being developed for sure, but the way we throw that word around to describe everything means that what it is really describing is nothing. A rash of authors have piped up lately to bemoan the general state of innovation, including our friend Francisco Dao positing that innovation is stalled. I know interesting innovation is still happening – it’s human nature after all – but can we please stop calling everything new an innovation?
It’s time to paint a start contrast between innovation and capital “I” Innovation. Technically, the fact that I’m wearing a t-shirt with slacks today is an innovation for me because I’ve never done it before (I’m wild, I know). It is novel. For me. And that’s the crux of my argument. Shrink the audience small enough, and very mundane things can be an innovation (green socks today? You animal.) This needs to stop.
As with all things in this modern life, I’ll blame over-eager marketers first. I’m sure when you’re charged with selling yet another copy-cat piece of hardware, calling the green power button “innovative!” is the last straw you have left to grasp. Please stop. We can all see right through that and immediately think less of your product.
Egging them on, of course, are over-eager entrepreneurs who honestly, deeply, and wholly believe that their underwear subscription service is a paradigm-shifting invention. They are right insofar as it is an invention, but not all inventions are innovations, at least not to the broad world. Feel free to continue extolling your “innovative” business model in your specific trade journals and myopic meeting groups. Go wild. But when you’re interacting with the wide world remember that if you have to explain how your invention is innovative, then it is not actually Innovative at all.
I want us to reclaim Innovation. Let’s stop using it to describe everything from business models to sandwich toppings. Internet search was an innovation in the way consumer supply and demand worked. Automobiles were an innovation in population movements. Gunpowder was an innovation in warfare. The iPhone was an invention, as are electric cars and Spotify. I put forth the challenge to all of us – let’s rank “innovation” with “awesome” and “hilarious” as overused and misunderstood words that we should all be more careful about how we use. I can promise that we here at LuckyRobot will be careful when we use that word, all we ask in return is that you think twice before you call your ice cream topping choice of pickles as Innovative. End of rant, carry on.