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Enough With the 'Innovation' Already!

The backlash against business's faddish obsession with innovation has begun, according to one pundit.
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In the world of business and entrepreneurship, few things are hotter at the moment than innovation. On Inc.com and elsewhere, a host of experts have celebrated innovative thinking and offering myriad tips on how to encourage it at your company.

Fresh ideas and game-changing insights have a clear appeal, so it's no wonder the concept has taken off. But according to William C. Taylor, co-founder of Fast Company and author of Practically Radical: Not-So-Crazy Ways to Transform Your Company, Shake Up Your Industry, and Challenge Yourself, not everyone is equally enamored with the goal of innovation. In fact, according to a recent post by Taylor for the HBR blog network, a number of top media outlets are pointing to the froth over innovation and asking pointed questions about whether our obsession with all things innovative hasn't become an unhelpful fad.

Pointing to recent pieces in Wired and the Wall Street Journal for support, Taylor suggests that innovation has become "yet another consultant-driven management technique, one more piece of language in what… Polly LaBarre calls the 'jargon monoxide' that defines so much of business life."

So if encouraging innovation is mostly hype with little substance at this point, what should leaders interested in solving fresh problems and challenging out-of-date ideas focus on instead? How about just having fun, suggests Taylor. He writes:

In the latest issue of Wired, Tim O'Reilly, the brilliant technology thinker and book publisher, offered his corrective on innovation, in this case with respect to entrepreneurs: "The myth of innovation is that it starts with entrepreneurs, but it really starts with people having fun. The Wright brothers weren't trying to build an airline, they were saying, 'Holy shit, do you think we could fly?' The first kids who made snowboards, they just glued skis together and said, 'Let's try this!' With the web, none of us thought there was money in it. People said, 'This document came from halfway around the world. How awesome is that!'"

So what if we all stopped trying to "innovate"--and started trying to have fun and really do something new? And what if we set ourselves a more basic (and more authentic) set of challenges as we look to the future:

What difference are we trying to make in our field? What do we care about?

The complete post, which is well worth a read in full, offers many more details on how companies that are heralded as exemplars of innovation (Southwest Airlines, Zappos) were actually focused on other goals, rather than being driven by a generic desire to do things differently.

Do you agree with Taylor and his fellow naysayers that all the talk about innovation has become counter-productive? 

 

Last updated: Sep 7, 2012

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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