You’ll notice that we called this post “innovative.” That’s because innovation is good, and everyone is practicing it. Or at least they say they are. “Innovation” has become the “awesome” of corporate speak.
Earlier this week, The Wall Street Journal took a bemused look at the phenomenon, noting that companies are claiming to innovate as never before. “But that doesn’t mean the companies are actually doing any innovating,” the Journal observed. “Instead they are using the word to convey monumental change when the progress they’re describing is quite ordinary.”
One of the people interviewed, Scott Berkun, author of the book The Myths of Innovation, explained that he prefers to save the word for “civilization-changing inventions like electricity, the printing press and the telephone.”
Peter Drucker was always quick to call out business leaders for employing hackneyed or all-too-fashionable terminology, and he deplored the “growing disparity between our rhetoric and our practice” in business.
But Drucker, we know, would have taken a far more generous view than does Berkun toward companies boasting of innovation. That’s because in his book Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Drucker went to great lengths to emphasize that most innovation isn’t civilization changing.
“To be sure, there are innovations that in themselves constitute a major change; some of the major technical innovations, such as the Wright Brothers’ airplane, are examples,” Drucker wrote. “But these are exceptions, and fairly uncommon ones.”
Indeed, Drucker’s definition of innovation was modest and simple: It is “the task of giving human and material resources new and greater wealth-producing capacity.”
“Most successful innovations are . . . prosaic; they exploit change,” Drucker added. “And thus the discipline of innovation (and it is the knowledge base of entrepreneurship) is a diagnostic discipline: a systematic examination of the areas of change that typically offer entrepreneurial opportunities.”
In short, you really can be innovative without inventing the airplane.
What sort of activity do you think merits the word “innovative” or “innovation”—and why?