I am sitting in the back of a packed room attending a talk at a local meetup. Everyone has their slice of pizza and waits eagerly to hear the speaker teach us about innovation. He starts by telling us about how technology progresses. Then, he outlines a framework for thinking about the innovation process. Finally, he puts a definition up on the power-point and tells us this is how he likes to think about innovation. It sounds reasonably good even though it’s a different one than I have heard in the past.
A couple weeks later, I attend another talk at a local startup accelerator about the relationship between design and innovation. The speaker tells us about her approach to design. She then talks about how design relates to innovation. She presents us with yet another adequate but different definition of innovation.
I get home and leaf through my copy of “The Myths of Innovation” to see how Scott Berkun defines it. He presents several definitions!
I go to sleep wondering “How can my team do innovative work if no one can agree on how to define it? Does it even matter?”
The next day I continue to dig. Google says innovation is aiming at being 10 times better. Jon Wilson, former VP of Corporate Innovation at Kimberly-Clark, says innovation is being able to pass through “filters” such as industry trends and consumer needs.
Some don’t bother to even define it. Consulting firm, Deloitte, has an entire business dedicated to innovation but, as far as I can tell, they do not readily provide a clear definition of what “innovation” means.
Many seem to be on a quest for more innovation but it’s all starting to sound as concrete as the holy grail.
Stop saying you are “innovative”
The problem with the word “innovation” is that it is so overused that it sometimes obfuscates some actually amazing things people and companies are doing. For instance, which of the following is cooler? A company which “creates innovative technologies” or one which “uses drones to eliminate the need for manual dam safety inspections”. Who knows what the first company considers “innovative”? However, we clearly know the latter company is building something amazing.
Without articulating what you do and using terms such as “innovative”, you lose the opportunity to communicate how you differentiate. Many companies say they are innovative. Saying that you are as well is the opposite of setting yourself apart.
Describe what you do instead
While describing what you do, talk about what value you deliver. How are you changing lives? How are you saving business money? How are you saving people time?
For instance, with my company, Simple Interact, we tell people that we “automate repetitive, manual tasks in medical facilities”. This frees up staff do do what humans do best which is to deal with the unexpected and provide a human interaction with patients when needed.
We could instead tell people we are “an innovative cloud based solution” but I am guessing people would start to tune us out.
I was at a conference a few years back and I met a man a few booths down from us who repairs surgical scopes. Buying new scopes for medical doctors is very expensive and repairing one is much more cost effective. This man’s card said exactly what he did. His clients could clearly see the value of what he did. I am sure he had created processes and business methods which might fit into a definition of being innovative. However, if he had touted his “innovation”, that would have confused his message and possibly made potential clients forget what value he could bring. He would have been just yet another innovator.