This is an argument about semantics. But semantics can be decisively important.
I build and market tools that enable companies to make better use of the intelligence, insight, experience and output of their workforce. I do this because this is nearly all I ever think about (excepting chocolate, coffee and my kids).
Many people I work with, and in the industry, wish to market these collaborative tools by suggesting that they drive or improve the process or outcome of innovation. I always hesitate to adopt this as our positioning.
Here’s why. “Innovation” is a vague and misunderstood term. Most executives pay lip-service to wanting to be innovative. They don’t mean it, and you can’t sell it to them. Its not that these guys (women too) are stodgy or against “innovation”, its just that they don’t really believe in it (because we don’t really know what “it” is – and something is generally labeled as innovative after the fact – not up front). You can’t depend on “innovation” because you can’t predict it. You can’t create business plans that depend on “a great miracle happens here”. See that? I just equated innovation to a miracle. And I think that’s how many organizations see innovation – as a miracle to be prayed for. And most organizations are non-believers.
There are a number of “innovation management” and “idea management” products and methodologies out there. Some are superbly good at it. Many now invite the public into “collaborative” forums for business brainstorming. They collect, manage, rate, evaluate. Some have been brilliantly successful – like at Starbucks or Dell. How much has this type of innovation moved the bottom line for these companies? I don’t know, but not that much, I think. Currently, these initiatives likely pay off more in good will and customer insight than they do in direct business results (a plenty good enough reason to use them). NASA and DARPA have both crowdsourced remarkable solutions to remarkable problems. Of course crowdsourcing is another subject, and shouldn’t be confused with ideation or innovation – (though ideation is a valid use case for crowdsourcing).
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