Look up ‘innovation’ in any ordinary word reference and bold synonyms like unique, new, departure, risk, change, introduction and invention leap from the page. So when a client sticks this expression in a brief you’d be forgiven for assuming there’s a real intention to do something different.
I’m gob smacked when original thinking gets requested and then turned down because the idea hasn’t been used before. Or novelty is rejected because it doesn’t come with the kind of proof-of-concept found on the well worn paths of convention. Go figure!
I used to think that the stumbling block to doing unique things was ordinary human complacency. Now I’m sure its corporate survival that gets in the way. If there’s no compelling reason to stick an imaginative neck out, it’s safer to plod the path of the tried and trusted rather than risk new things. And until someone gets fired for simulating best practice this obstacle to innovation isn’t going to go away anytime soon!
So these days I try to sniff out whether the word innovation is glibly splattered into a strategy document because it’s the buzz - or because there’s a dire need to leapfrog copycat products and services. If the stakes in inventing an original or unique path are high, I know that it’s the real McCoy Innovation the business is after. If so, chances are they’ll live with the experimentation and risk to be found on the wild-west side of the innovation coin.
If not it’s almost certain that the client spells innovation more like i-m-i-t-a-t-i-o-n – - and the search is on for proven solutions.
That’s OK, I suppose. But I think best practice is for sissies. Innovation is a bold business and the spoils are reserved for rugged pioneers who’ll invest a little blood, sweat and tears that go with the territory of establishing it first.