Just been talking about innovation with a bunch of folks and found myself getting more and more wound up about the way people bandy the word around without knowing its meaning.
It’s not that I’m some pedant or radical who believes that every word has to be used in context correctly, but more to do with the way people talk about innovation as the core of growth and the essence of what they do, when they don’t even know what it is.
The conversation went something like this.
Geek 1: “Apple, what a company. I think they were the most innovative company in the world when Jobs was alive, but now that he’s dead, I dunno. They’re kinda losing it.”
Geek 2: “Yea, but Apple was always losing it when they bought out that dud of an iPhone5. I’m now on to see if the Windows8 phone cuts it.”
Geek 1: “Nah, Windows8 man. What planet are you on? Don’t you know that Microsoft stands for Most Intelligent Characters Realise Our Software Only Fools Teenagers?”
Geek 2: “Yea, and Apple are Arseholes Perpetuating Plebby Lardware Everywhere.”
Geek 3: “C’mon, guys. You need to get onto Google Android. That’s the future.”
Geek 1: “When did Google last innovate anything?”
Geek 2: “Didn’t you see Google Circles?”
Geek 4: “That’s why I’m waiting for the Facebook phone.”
Geek 4: “Yea. They’re the innovator now.”
The conversation frightens me as these were banking geeks talking about their mobile offers and yes, you guessed it, they all love gadgets whether it be smartphones, wireless headphones, tablets or pills (!).
The thing is that innovation is actually nothing to do with technology.
Technology often enables innovation, but technology is not innovation.
We need to go back to the word and definition of innovation itself and, in looking for a reasonably comprehensive definition, I quite liked this one from the Business Dictionary:
Innovation is the process of translating an idea or invention into a product or service that creates value and / or for which customers will pay.
To be called an innovation, an idea must be replicable at an economical cost and must satisfy a specific need.
Innovations are divided into two broad categories:
- Evolutionary innovations (continuous or dynamic evolutionary innovation) that are brought about by many incremental advances in technology or processes and
- Revolutionary innovations (also called discontinuous innovations) which are often disruptive and new.
Innovation is synonymous with risk-taking and organisations that create revolutionary products or technologies take on the greatest risk because they create new markets. Imitators take less risk because they will start with an innovator’s product and take a more effective approach.”
There is no mention here of technology, apart from the fact that this may enable new markets to be created.
In fact, my definition of innovation would summarise this as “the process of implementing new business models that deliver supply chains or value chains which create new markets and / or disrupt existing ones”.
Semantics and pedantics aside, it is the fact that so many discussions of innovation come down to a tech discussion that annoys me the most.
For example, Apple is not an innovator of technology.
There were plenty of digital music players, websites for downloading music and mobile phones around before the iPod, iTunes and the iPhone.
What Apple has been brilliant at is executing the vision of how to assemble these technologies into new value chains, such that the consumer can see why they would want these technologies.
It is the form and beauty of the Apple products once integrated and assembled that made their business rock and roll, not the technology.
So innovation is about the execution of new business models, not technology.
Or am I just being pedantic?
Picture courtesy of the Meme Generator