f**k “innovation!”

I don’t know about you, but I’m just about ready to say the above, loudly and clearly, uncensored.  I am about to give up on the whole idea of helping corporates to build a more innovative culture, to help them to create new innovative products, to dig deep into their customer’s jobs-to-be-done, and solve them.

I’ve been in the corporate innovation space for over 15 years, and have lived through many ups and downs during that period, and I have come to the conclusion that for most corporations, “innovation” is even less than meaningless. Over my time in that space I’ve heard:

  • “You’re an innovation consultant? Do people actually pay you for that?”
  • “How can you teach someone to be innovative? They are either born with it, or they aren’t”
  • “You can’t have an innovation group. That’s a culture. You can’t change that”

And of course the most famous one.

  • “Right now, thinking about the future is meaningless.”

I’ve just surpassed 500 episodes of my podcast, thinkfuture. I’ve interviewed a lot of innovators over the years, and the issues are all the same – they all boil down to the ROI. Despite the talk, no one is really interested in anything BUT increasing profits or cutting costs. And they are not interested in doing this at some point in the future, by creating and building products which people will love. They want the profits and saving IMMEDIATELY.

They don’t care about delighting the customer. They don’t care about giving them what they want. They care more about padding their bank accounts than anything else. They are not customer-centric in any way – they are revenue and profit-centric.

I’ve worked with a number of organizations innovation groups, and it’s always the same cycle: in good times, they staff up, make all sorts of noises on how they will be more responsive to their customers, buy all sorts of toys, make all sorts of partnerships, build all sorts of POCs. But nothing ever comes out of it. It’s theater. Then the cycle changes and the group is first diverted away from looking out to the future to new product development and turned inward to look at ways to cut costs. Immediate rewards are expected. Then, when those immediate rewards do not materialize, the group is disbanded.

If you ask me – with some of these organizations – having “innovation” in your job title is like having a target on your back. You are the first to go when the hard times hit. Which is exactly when you need innovation the most.

But I digress. How do we move forward in this world? If we can’t beat them, do we join them? Do we rewrite our resumes to eliminate the word innovation? Do we morph from Chief Innovation Officers to Chief Technology Officers, or from Innovation Managers to Product Managers? We can, of course, since almost all innovators I have met wear and have worn multiple hats – they could easily take on the role of Product Managers, Project Managers, or Program Managers.

I mentioned in one of my podcasts how important exact words and phrases are. Not just to AIs who cannot equate the skills of an “innovation manager” and a “product manager” or a startup CEO and a “product manager”, HR folks who don’t know that anyone in the innovation space has all of these skills and more, decides to not put you in the shortlist of candidates for that product manager job.

Today, more than ever, we need innovation. It’s too bad that, if not in words, but in action, many companies have said “f**k innovation!”