GUEST POST from Robyn Bolton
How do people react when you say “innovation?”
- Lean forward, eyes glittering, eager to hear more
- Stare blankly and nod slowly
- Roll their eyes and sigh
- Wave their hands dismissively and tell you to focus on other, more urgent priorities.
If you answered C, you’re in good company.
Innovation is a buzzword. Quick searches of Amazon and Google Scholar result in 100,000+ books and 200,000+ articles on the topic, while a scan of the SEC’s database yields 8,000 K-1 filings with the word “innovation” in 2020 alone.
“Innovation” is meaningless, like all buzzwords. There’s a reason that practitioners and consultants insist on establishing a common definition before starting innovation work. I’ve been in meetings with ten people, asked each person to define “innovation,” and heard 12 different answers.
But all this pales in comparison to the emotional response it elicits. Some people get incredibly excited, bouncing out of their seats, ready to bring their latest idea to life (whether it should be brought to life is a different story.). Some nod solemnly as if confronted by a necessary evil, accepting a fate beyond their control. Most roll their eyes because they’ve been through this before and, like all management “flavors of the month,” this too shall pass.
“Innovation” is killing Innovation
The emotions and opinions we tie to “innovation” overwhelm the dictionary definition, making it difficult to believe that the process and, more importantly, the result will be different this time.
We need a different word.
One that has the same meaning and none of the baggage.
This may feel impossible, but if “literally” can mean “figuratively” (do NOT get me started on this 2013 decision) and the Oxford English Dictionary can add 700 new words in 2022, surely we can figure this out.
10 alternatives to ‘Innovation’
The following options are sourced primarily from conversations with other experts and practitioners.
- Business R&D*
Yes, #10 is intentionally missing because…
What do you think?
Finding a new word (or maybe changing how “innovation” is perceived, understood, and pursued) is a group effort. One person alone can’t do it, and a few people on a call complaining about the state of things certainly won’t (we’ve tried).
What do you think?
Do we need a different word for “innovation,” or should we keep it and deal with the baggage?
If we need a different word, what could it be? What do YOU use?
If we keep it, how do you combat the misunderstanding, eye rolls, and emotional baggage?
Let us know in the comments.
* This option came directly from a conversation with a client last week, and I kinda love it.
We discussed the challenge of getting engineers to stay in a discovery mindset rather than jumping immediately to solutions. Even though they work in R&D (the function), he observed that 99.9% of their work (and, honestly, their careers) is spent on the D in R&D (development).
That’s when it clicked.
Research begins with investigation and inquiry to understand a broad problem and then uses the resulting insights to solve a specific problem. It is a learning process, just like the early stages of Innovation. And, just like in the early days of Innovation, you can’t predict the result or routinize the work.
Development focuses on bringing the “new or modified product or process to production,” Just like the later phases of Innovation when prototyping and experimentation are required, and risk is driven out of the proposition.
Traditional R&D focuses on technical and scientific exploration and solutioning,
Innovation focuses on market, consumer/customer, and business model exploration and solutioning.
It is R&D for the business.
Image credits: Pixabay
Sign up here to join 17,000+ leaders getting Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to their inbox every week.
I agree with your premise. Yet, innovation carries a ton of gravitas and sizzle. For it to mean something useful it needs context. For now I suggest the use of the word novelation.
“Novelation” – what a novel word (sorry, couldn’t resist). I’m curious, how did you come up with it and how well is it working?
I definitely agree that “innovation” needs context, especially to weed through all the sizzle to understand what people really mean when they use the word. So often when I worked at Clayton Christensen’s firm, executives would call seeking help to “disruptively innovate.” When I would explain what that actually meant, the would always wave their hands, shake their heads, and say “Oh no, we don’t want THAT.” But it always led to a really helpful conversation about what they did want (which helped us define “innovation” for that company and culture.