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Innovation – an overloaded and clichéd term

Last week I sat in a meeting where a senior executive of the organisation made the comment: “Innovation is an overloaded and clichéd term”.  This literally sent shivers down my spine, so I want to take a break from my planned list of topics for this week and dissect this statement and also provide an “unofficial” answer to this statement.     
I wisely decided not to go into a discussion over the person’s statement at the time when it was uttered, and so I made a mental note and decided to review and think about the statement first and then re-visit the executive to discuss.  The executive under discussion did not struck me as the “anti-innovation” type, which is usually easily identifiable, so I decided to go from the angle of first understanding why he would make such a statement.  
It is certainly evident that innovation has become a term that is used extensively in organisations’ advertising slogans and values- and mission statement these days.  This is not necessarily wrong or a bad thing, I just think that innovation has a different meaning for each organisation (and individual for that matter), and when the assumption is made that the receiver of the message has the same interpretation of innovation as the sender – and there are many senders – then it can actually become an overloaded and clichéd term. As with any expressed organisational value or advertising slogan, if what you propagate is not reflected in your actions, your credibility will take a serious nosedive and usually profits will follow suit.  Unfortunately the reality is that many organisations, who give themselves out as being “innovative”, are stuck in tradition and their clients are waiting for positive changes or they vote with their feet and take their business to the competition.  It is also easy to state that “innovation” is a value of the business, but does the business even have a process for sourcing ideas and moving ideas forward in the business?
So having thought through this, I actually found that, from the executive’s point of view, innovation can be a misunderstood term.  I use the word “misunderstood” as opposed to “overloaded and clichéd”, which I feel the executive should’ve used in the first place.  So, if the executive’s statement did make sense from his point of view, why was I still uncomfortable with it?
I had to dig deeper to understand what upset me so much of this statement.  It eventually dawned on me that I was disgruntled by this statement, because this person, who is a leader in the organisation and has influence on employees’ thoughts and actions, made this comment in such a negative way, as if innovation was a bad thing.  It basically sent a message to the people around the table to “be careful of innovation, it does not belong here and it will not do us any good”.  
So how should this have been handled?  Well for starters, if this organisation had a definition for innovation and a clear understanding of what innovation means to them, a statement such as this would never have been made.  I have seen it in practice, where it took an organisation’s leadership team a whole day to work out and agree on their definition of innovation, but once it was decided upon, the other questions on the how, what and who, were easily answered.  If an organisation lists innovation as an organisational value and it does not have a definition and a process for innovation, it is just lip service and leads to executives making statements that do more harm than good.  So my lesson here for you is, do not bad mouth innovation, because your competitors, who embrace it, understand what it means to them and exploit it, will use it against you to win over your customers.

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