Why You Probably Don’t Want Innovation

4 May, 2017 / Articles

Everyone seems to want innovation these days, it’s why I’ve got it in my title.

Nobody really knows what it is, but everybody, and I mean everybody, wants it.

Everyone wants to be the first. Everyone wants to growth hack, to launch partner, to accelerate or incubate. Everyone wants AI without being bogged down with details,( like that AI isn’t really here yet). Everyone wants to test and learn, so long as it’s failing fast without the failure. Everyone wants to work with a startup, whatever that actually means. We all want to win the award for taking the risk, so long as it wasn’t risky.

We want to all be the “disruptors” of the world, so long as it’s not disruptive. We see the sexy poster children of the early 21st century and want to emulate their funky vision, without the problem of survivorship bias dragging us down. We all want to do crazy stuff, so long as “it comes with a data supported argument”, even if the data projections are (withoug exception) absolute BOLLOCKS.

Everyone wants to be the person who did the funny Twitter thing, or the Drone stuff or the Google Home hack from the ad that never was an ad, but was just PR.

Everyone wants to be the Warby Parker of Cat food, and reduce their margins in the process.

We all need to think how the internet of things should be applied to yellow fats. Chatbots for Ice Cream, iBeacons for magazines, AR for Gas stations, let me at it. But in all this, take a moment, are we celebrating the people who made the difference, the idea that moved needles, or the people who made the Press Release?

Innovation is really hard.

Proper innovation doesn’t happen at the edge; the edge is easy.

We can give a $30k bounty for the best idea, we can do stuff with University kids and whiteboards or the open source competition.

But these are the trappings or garnish of innovation and if we’re celebrating the process of innovation and not the outcome of it, we’ve got it all wrong.

If we are to celebrate the things our friends in the industry know about, but no person in the real world hears about, like a forest in a tree or Schrodingers cat, did it really happen? Are we that self serving?

We’ve come to celebrate the theatre of innovation not the workshop of it. Innovation is sweaty, risky, terrifying and takes balls. So are you really up for it?

Real innovation happens at the core. Where it’s hard. It’s changing businesses models, changing culture, changing the ways people work, changing how we think about our roles. Changing a lot, and changing things painfully. So are you really prepared to do what it takes?

It’s not just the physical manifestations of Innovation

In life we often get causation the wrong way around. We think that happy, creative, entrepreneurial places with pool tables and free food, random gym equipment, dogs in the office, and everyone getting hammered at 4pm on a Thursday are the ingredients.

We see offices install table tennis tables and institute happy hours and we expect people to become creative, we are shocked when they don’t. It’s the wrong way around. Nice offices happen as a result of funky funness, they don’t make it.

Innovation is the same. We can’t retrofit companies with creativity, boldness, and crazy ideas through the installation of some aspects that may happened to exist in some companies we admire. Funky red asymmetric furniture, the post it notes, the parallax scrolling websites and the venture arms are great, what actually comes of it all?

There is a lot of codification and sanitization of innovation. It’s the innovation days with 20 curated and briefed companies, with the same short creds presentations, a neat scorecard to make selection easy, and a brochure to merchandise the effort put in.

It’s the startup safaris of Silicon Roundabout with the nice narrative and absolute zero chance of anything of any significance actually happening.

It’s the inspiration presentation from a startup founder that everyone wants to be, the trends presentation from someone with funny hair (if I’m lucky, maybe me). It’s the breakout sessions, the guest speaker and the workshop with the oddly big pens and bigger sheets of paper, and cliches about all ideas being good and maybe a picture of a lightbulb or a box. Codification and productization of innovation makes it easily buyable, but does it lead to much. And isn’t that the ONLY thing that matters.

Innovation is the opposite. It’s not a session, it can’t be shipped in, or outsourced for a sunny Friday. It’s a culture. It’s angry people who care and want to make change and (hopefully) people who will forgive them. It’s not a product and if it was it would look horrible, it would be spelt wrong, like probably much of this is.

Innovation really happens by people that give so much of a shit they get fired in many places.

Change happens because ideas compel odd people to take risks because they believe in it.

Innovation is people having massive arguments.

It’s pissing off most people. It’s going against policies. It’s being a huge pain but with the most pure of intentions, that will be misunderstood, who are they to care so much, chill out this is awkward. It’s irritating everyone but knowing that heat makes fire. Somewhere.

It’s ideas that make people laugh. It’s barging into an office because you are not going to wait until August and the “off site” or for “2018 planning.” It’s phoning the Client up directly, or shoving an image into someone’s face as they pee.

Innovation is horribly painful, deeply disturbing and massively disruptive. It’s an ugly process, messy, awkward, rude, counterintuitive. If it’s not making you feel a lot of things it’s not innovation.

Innovation is writing this literally in 22 mins, when you are supposed to be prepping for a TV interview and not really spell checking it and publishing it, because you care only about making a difference and because sometimes flow is good.

The science man and innovator, Fernando Fischmann, founder of Crystal Lagoons, recommends this article.

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