by Bill Taylor | 11:33 AM May 30, 2012
There’s something about the culture of business that tends toward excess — in financial markets, to be sure, but also in the “market” for new ideas and management techniques. The dynamic is always the same, whether the idea in question is reengineering, six-sigma quality, or lean production systems: A genuinely original strategy is born in one company or industry, consultants discover the practice and turn it into a marketable commodity, executives in all sorts of other companies race to “buy” the product — and then they wonder why the technique didn’t work nearly as well in their organization as it did in the place that created it in the first place.
I fear that very dynamic is unfolding today with respect to a piece of language and a leadership aspiration that has become the Holy Grail for business thinkers like me.
That piece of language, that aspiration, is innovation.
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which did not get nearly the attention it deserved, made the case that the word “innovation” has outlived its usefulness. “Companies are touting chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovations strategies, and even innovation days,” the hard-hitting piece noted. “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.”