Has Innovation Jumped the Shark?

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We have the Fonz and the ancient TV show Happy Days to thank for the popularization of a phrase that has come to mean the point at which something becomes largely irrelevant. I heard from a colleague recently that she had been pulled aside and told, in a patronizing tone, "I'm sorry, but innovation is dead." Has innovation as a discipline indeed "jumped the shark" like Arthur Fonzarelli back in 1977?

Apparently the reason my colleague was accosted with the news that innovation is dead was that "digital" is the new hot topic. If we're comparing meaningless taglines to describe what's "in" in C-suites right now then this is hard to argue: digital is indeed on the rise, along with various first cousins like analytics, IoT, and the aging Big Data. But I don't believe innovation is a meaningless tagline, any more than I think that the incredible advantage that can be attained from leveraging technology as a central part of your business model can be summed up by the word "digital."

What it means to innovate. Innovation has become a largely meaningless term because it has been thrown around to vaguely refer to anything new. That's wrong. "New" matters to the definition, but it is far less important than the description of what's achieved through innovation. The definition I most like is that "innovation is the creation of a new, viable business offering." And for me, the most important word in that phrase is viable: innovation must result in the creation of new economic value - for our customer but also for our enterprise.

It's hard for me to accept that the compulsion to discover new sources of profitable growth in a fast-changing world is "dead." In fact, for most profit-oriented organizations it will never die and will only become more important as exponential shifts in technology render the business landscape increasingly unrecognizable as we look towards the future. Just a scan of the business headlines from the past few weeks leads me to believe that others agree: I'm pretty sure Maersk and its drones, or Sharp in its deal with Foxconn, or Tesla as it anticipates what is meant to be its first profitable line in the Model 3, are on the side of believing that innovation is in fact alive, kicking, and delivering competitive advantage.

No wonder hot terms are hot. Of course, none of this means that digital is not on the rise; it is. But it's on the rise as an opportunity space and mechanism to achieve innovation. As are FinTech, wearables, and additive manufacturing, to name just a few of the hot terms these days. All of them provide the means to create new, viable business offerings ... often faster, more collaboratively, and at much lower costs than before. This is critical in a world where exponential change is becoming the norm and in which companies need to become ever more nimble to stay relevant.

To cut our protagonist a little slack, I have to admit I understand the desire to kill off innovation. In some quarters it has become an obnoxious justification to sit in rooms with lots of squeezy balls, dressed like you slept in your clothes, randomly throwing out thoughts while covered by the umbrella of "no idea is a bad idea." That's not innovation; that's a waste of time... And if that is the notion of innovation that we're declaring dead then I'm in: put a stake in it. But real innovation - the use of new methods to discover new ways of driving economic value in a world which is increasingly digitally enabled - is here to stay.

Innovation is dead. Long live innovation.