Cassette Tapes & Paper Trails: Is “Innovation” Outdated Technology?

It was only a matter of time.

Remember those cool CB radios? No more, now we have cell phones.

Ten Four Mr. Technology, throw out that VCR and those cassette tapes in favor of DVDs and Mp3s.

Did you ever find that intersection? Rodger That. But, not by a map; instead, by a brand new GPS.

Cars, cameras, computers, software, phonebooks, blenders—they’re all being replaced slowly but surely by newer, better technology.

So, it was only a matter of time for business management’s favorite term—innovation—to outlive its usefulness.

At least, that’s what one author at the Wall Street Journal believes. Leslie Kwoh wrote in an article titled, “You Call That Innovation,” the following:

“Businesses throw around the term to show they’re on the cutting edge of everything from technology and medicine to snacks and cosmetics. Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies and even innovation days.”

This blog is victim to the “innovation craze,” pushing law firms to find innovation in their business practice and management strategies.

Asking for or claiming to have achieved innovation, according to Kwoh, however, is not enough.

“But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating. Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary,” she writes.

Remember “synergy” and “optimization” asks Kwoh? Yah, we do too. And, those outdated terms are considered ridiculous or cliché when touted in a boardroom.

Apparently, a search of annual and quarterly reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission showed that companies mentioned some form of the word “innovation” 33,528 times last year, according to the WSJ. This was a 64 percent increase from five years previously.

Scott Berkun warns about the dilution of the word in his 2007 book The Myths of Innovation. He claims that what most people call an innovation is more likely just a “very good product.”

Berkun prefers to reserve the word for “civilization-changing inventions,” including electricity, the printing press, the telephone, and, more recently, even the iPhone, reports Kwoh.

Mr. Berkun, now an innovation consultant, advises clients to ban the word at their companies, according to the WSJ, saying, “It is a chameleon-like word to hide the lack of substance.”

While Kwoh’s WSJ article is ironically quite innovative, it also begs the question, does it really matter what words we use?

In reality, “synergy” was an excellent way to express the need in business to have a unified corporate culture and work together as a project team.

“Optimization” is a word to remind teams of the need for streamlined processes and efficiency in all work practice.

Finally, “innovation” is just a word to remind businesses that constant change is necessary to adapt to various economic troubles. In fact, innovation or invention of new management ideas is not new at all.

Throughout history, the inventors of the automobile, assembly line, light bulb, or scaffolding have relied on the premise that “developing new technology and new ways to deliver services is a good thing.”

And so, don’t fear the word for what has become—luckily for us all—representative of standard and helpful business strategy: keeping up with technology and other modern change to become a leader in a certain field.

Remember that actions, not words, are usually to blame for failure.

-WB

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