I’m amused with the recent stream of publications describing the supposedly dreadful state of innovation. We’re informed that “innovation today disappoints,” that it’s “not delivering” and that “our innovation systems are breaking down.” We’re also told that “people are fed up with innovation” and that we should reduce using the very term “innovation” and ban the term “innovation culture” at all.
What’s going on? Sure, I’m not particularly happy with what I see in the field myself. Recently, I pointed out to the troubling findings in the Accenture’s 2015 Innovation Survey indicating that there is a mess in the heads of innovation practitioners with regards to the different types of innovation–a confusion that may indeed easily derail any innovation program. And before, I complained that many organizations fake innovation instead of making it.
But the glass of innovation isn’t completely empty; it’s rather half-full. The same Accenture study finds that, despite setbacks, companies keep establishing formal corporate innovation programs, utilize digital platforms to manage innovation process and, most importantly, increasingly approach their customers in search for new ideas. Is it a bumpy road? You bet! But they are trying. Imagine that you’ve just started to learn driving a car. Despite your best efforts to do everything by the book, your car is often frustrating you with sudden stops, risky moves and strange noises under the hood. Is this a reason to trash this car and buy a new one?
The great German philosopher Hegel taught us that small quantitative increases in some entity, when reaching a certain threshold, give rise to a qualitative change in this entity. This is exactly the stage the innovation process is at today: accumulating small, incremental changes–by way of trial and error–which will sooner or later give rise to acquisition of new knowledge and experience. Rushing this process or complaining that it’s not fast enough is counterproductive, to say the very least.
And the best that innovation practitioners, including consultants, can do today is not to push the proverbial panic button. They should instead provide a clear vision of what a real (not faked) innovation is and what strategic roads to reach it are. They should carefully observe things, detect problems and help their organizations or clients correct the course. They should also stop playing childish games of name-calling by fiddling with the established business terminology.