Innovation is NOT the Answer

So I'm hearing lots of people these days talk about the need for organizations to innovate. It's on everyone's lips. Innovation is the medicine for whatever ails you. And Rebels at Work, of course, are all about Innovation. We often define ourselves in the context of what we want to change.

But as the term Innovation has become ever more popular, it has begun to sound funny to me, nonsensical. The way any word will lose meaning if you just say it over and over again.

And so these are my questions to those who speak of Innovation: Exactly what is Innovation? and, What are you trying to Innovate? Are all new things innovative? Do we have to innovate everything we do?

If you dismount from the Innovation Bandwagon, I think you'll realize that Innovation in and of itself doesn't solve anything. Coming up with a new idea may or may not solve a problem you have or advance your organization's mission or make something better. The issue is not so much whether you are innovative as it is whether you are thoughtful about what you're doing.

Innovation is not, let's say, like process re-engineering or Lean Six Sigma. It's not a series of steps that lead to a magical outcome. It's not a board game.

Innovation is one possible outcome of being thoughtful about what you and your organization do.

Instead of talking about Innovation, let's unpack the term and have different conversations around these questions, all of which ask us to think about what we do.

  • How do we know when it's time to refresh our processes and doctrine?  
  • Do we have a process to help us determine when we need to change something? Who's involved in that process? Anyone?  
  • What are the habits of my organization? I think perhaps one useful definition of Innovation is "the opposite of habit."  
  • How easy is it for individuals in my organization to experiment with something new? Is it much, much easier to just keep doing what we've always done? Do individuals in the organization have to be courageous super-hero's to experiment?