Buzzwords, jargon and colloquialisms (neologisms, technically) play a big part in today’s business communication, particularly among technology professionals. One of the words that has become all but mandatory for describing a project, service, product or initiative is innovation. In fact, the word has become so overused by organizations trying to differentiate themselves that it has lost much of its meaning and all its impact.
Although the technologically minded among us are often the source of buzzword blizzards, there’s plenty of blame to go around for innovation. All of this came to mind as I was preparing for a session I’ll be presenting at InnoTech in Dallas on the topic of the mind-shift from “robots vs. humans” to “robots empowering humans.”
From my view, automation used to represent innovation. Now it is the status quo, and AI-enabled automation is at the heart of innovation, leading some to (unnecessarily, I argue) worry about the role people will play as innovations in AI disrupt industries. If today’s innovation is tomorrow’s business-as-usual—and if innovation is so commonplace it can happen accidentally—what is true innovation?
The Search for Innovation
The Wall Street Journal once did an analysis of the way businesses use the word innovation. It was amusing to see that food producers — soup makers in particular — used the word innovation more times in their annual report than Alphabet (Google) did that year. Innovation has become so prevalent in the media, advertising, annual reports and in the workplace that it has been drained of any but the most residual of communicative value. If everything is innovative, even reducing the amount of salt in a can of soup, then innovation is something you might accomplish accidentally several times a day.
While the weakening of the word innovation is surely a language issue, it is also a business issue. Businesses must continue to modernize and evolve to succeed. As a recent article in Inc. put it, the simple truth is that “Innovation is the key to success in the business world. Brands that stay on top of the latest innovations are more likely to have successful outcomes.” If a business is mistaken or not aligned with what innovation is and what it isn’t, it could let a false sense of accomplishment lead it down a doomed path. That is how innovation becomes dangerous.
If we have trouble understanding the word and its use, it is no wonder. According to a recent McKinsey report, 94 percent of global executives are dissatisfied with their company’s innovation performance. This isn’t surprising, as organizations frequently have trouble discussing innovation, and even more trouble understanding the role that the customer experience plays. For many organizations, insights into the customer experience come much too late in the innovation process.
Some of the confusion can be attributed to a common misconception about innovation. That mistake is thinking that innovation is a synonym for invention. In fact, the two phenomena are very different. Critically, the process of inventing something consumes capital and resources; innovation seeks to return that capital and deliver new value.
A simple definition is that innovation is the process of implementing new ideas that create value. However, anyone using the word to direct work activities, or for strategic planning purposes, should be clear about the kind of innovation they seek. Let’s dig a little deeper.
Phases of Innovation
As with much of what occurs in the business world, innovation takes place in phases. Innovation phases refer to points in the product lifecycle or along the S-curve to disruptive or incremental innovation. Significant or disruptive innovation occurs in an initial phase, when a new product, service, management approach, process, or business model fundamentally changes the way we fulfill our wants and needs.
The next phase is incremental innovation. Once an initially disruptive innovation has gained traction, we see incremental improvements made to the innovation throughout its lifecycle. This is where most innovation efforts occur, albeit at a smaller scale and more frequently.
Incremental innovation in aggregate can be as competitively differentiating as disruptive innovation. For example, organizations that focus on quality and speed, such as gaining improvements and shortening cycle times, typically win in the marketplace. Even then, organizations must seek to disrupt themselves.
Innovation in Action, and Innovation Inaction
What does it mean to disrupt yourself? The classic example is Blockbuster. By leveraging incremental innovations in operations and facility management to improve their existing business model, Blockbuster became a titan of the movie rental industry. By failing to disrupt its own business model in the face of threats such as RedBox and Netflix, Blockbuster sealed its own fate.
Understanding the nature of innovation, and unleashing it in your business, can be monumentally important to your business’s success. Follow me @DougReeder on Twitter to continue this discussion. I’ll be sharing more from InnoTechDallas on May 2. In the meantime, to learn more about how NTT DATA Services is improving the customer experience in commercial industries, visit our web page, or contact an expert.
Post Date: 5/1/2018