Innovation is dead, long live innovation (Part One)

A story for bravehearts, rebels, new kids, pioneers and renegades

By Henra Mayer and Richard Copland

There once was a management fad called Innovation. It was beautiful and popular and had a certain mystique, maybe magic about it. It attributed certain revolutionary businessmen and women with the Midas touch and was the reason some pretty cool, new baby starlets were born. It certainly got a lot of dinosaurs out of their dark caves of irrelevance and ignited new fire into some old, weary dragons. It was almost like a warrior poet, called upon to save those in danger.

Then one day Innovation went too far. Expected too much. Innovation wanted people to create their own stories too.  It became more and more difficult to sustain the happily ever afters – because according to the Kingdom, that was not the deal. The dinosaurs longed for their familiar caves, the knights blamed innovation for their injuries at war as their new weaponry were not delivering its promised deadly blows and the people of the Kingdom, well they eventually grew tired of the rock stars’ same old, noisy hits accompanied by the usual marketing gimmicks and smoke and mirrors. And so the story became endangered. It received a price on its head. Accusations were thrown. Innovation was blamed, gossiped about and eventually captured. The kingdom arranged a huge fest to give it a fitting farewell. Eulogies were recited, the “Eureka” moments remembered and many soldiers gathered around the round table were huge battle losses were mourned. All agreed, the magic was gone, the battlefield littered and the reality of survival far too pressing to waste any more time on Innovation.

Logic, experience and sanity needed to prevail. The musketeers were sent with word to gather the legal wizards and formulate a defence against the die-hard mutineers. Innovation was put on trial once again.

Innovation is dead

Get to the heart of it

So here we are – trying to make sense of the arguments by industry experts and respected research publications that we came to trust on the matter. Are we for or against innovation as the industry that we are passionate about, believe in and spent countless hours on building and supporting, is professed to be dying? It has become littered with corpses and phrases that we cannot stomach anymore – like endless write-ups on the “over-use “of the word and deliberate efforts to ban any term innovation related from general business language. It accuses of the fuzziness of innovation output, the strategic difficulty of its execution, the inherent risk, the ever increasing almost spinning speed of change and the sheer hopeless, uncontrollable reality of it all.

Soldiers take responsibility for victory

As a team that has dedicated more than 20 passionate years to the subject matter we feel like warriors. We fight with weaponry that has not delivered the deadly blow, but we know winning is worth fighting for and that it requires taking responsibility for the victory sought. This may make us biased on the topic, as you cannot work in an industry for this amount of time if you do not passionately believe in its ability to deliver.

As soldiers in the industry, this is part one of our observation of the innovation battlefield as we run to the frontline, ready to take responsibility for creating the future of economic growth, sustainability and business longevity, alongside other like-minded bravehearts.

Innovation is dead

Much has been said about innovation as a management discipline lying on its death bed. Strong opinions and lauded experts are taking turns to point out the challenges with innovation and advise people to look elsewhere for results. One such opinion piece was recently published by one of our learned friends.  One cannot be in the industry and not view many of the arguments made as valid. We have lived it, seen it and have been frustrated by it. There is truth in many statements. About organisations talking the talk but not walking the walk, damage done by me-too, unimaginative fly-by-nights and (respected large consulting houses) – proclaiming expertise and weaving innovation magic wands while making unrealistic promises. Add to this overworked and uninterested employees who cannot handle another item on the to-do list and the throwing around of trendy terms and job titles by managers who hope they can turn a blind eye and don’t have to take responsibility for owning it. Luckily, through it all leadership is busy with more pressing issues, like organisational survival.

The battle in making it happen

Innovation is not about trendy catch-phrases or excuses, it’s about making it happen. Committing to the hard yards, and making sure that you have left nothing on the field. We believe – and judging from what we have seen from renegade entrepreneurs – that it is about 3 things that cannot be separated. The elements of the new, implementation and delivering value – whatever that value means in your context. Innovation is not only about creativity or the process in isolation. It’s about a lot more, like teams and ROI and business cases, about supportive software and results. Steve Jobs defined it once as creativity that ships.

Some have described Innovation Management Systems (IMS’s) as being a systematic gatherer of silly ideas that still gets ignored by management. Maybe we are not brave enough, courageous enough or maybe stability in economic downturns trumps planning for the future. Maybe we became irrelevant to the innovation industry. Can it be that short term gains are still the only lens justifying our work output and that we are too risk averse, reputation proud and overall, too scared to live a life that holds more promise by being part of something great? Or is this perhaps the other challenge with innovation. We talk too much. We are doing it wrong. Are we over complicating innovation instead of just getting on with it?

Innovation Live

All the great stories of history have many chapters and for the bravehearts and renegades amongst you look out for Innovation’s rebirth in the next post, Part 2 of the story, Innovation is dead, long live innovation. We have a view on that!

In the meantime we leave you with one last shout out for Innovation Live, our two day conference taking place in June in Midrand, where we will debate this together with other topics like the power of the crowd and staying at the edge.

 

Innocentrix is an innovation business and technology services company located at the Innovation Hub, South Africa. With a focus on collaborative innovation, Innocentrix also hosts Innovation Live, an annual innovation conference for pioneers. This event showcases the annual Innocentrix Innovation League Awards that ranks South Africa’s top innovation companies.