The Problem with Innovation

Pundits everywhere have admonished corporate functions from Accounting to IT to “be more innovative.” Books and blogs about innovation abound, and some companies have gone so far as to add a Chief Innovation Officer. The problem with this relentless focus on innovation is that it actually seems to be working.

Rather than drag some company that has fallen victim to an overbearing focus on innovation through the mud, I’ll look closer to home (literally). Without trying to sound self-congratulatory, I’m a fairly innovative guy. Our house is full of innovative technologies, from home automation to wireless streaming audio, and I’ve installed everything from molding to flooring to shelving, from plans concocted in my own head. So, what’s the problem? Let’s take a brief tour.

In the laundry room you’ll find a half completed shelf, started so long ago I can’t remember my excuse du jour for not completing it. Pay no attention to the automated lights that randomly come on around 4AM as you inspect the “server closet,” where a rats nest of wires more often than not lead to nothing, hastily unplugged from some device long since relegated to the eBay pile. In the garage, motorcycle parts and incomplete carpentry projects lie together, guarded by a spider that has made his home between them. You get the picture.

While arguably some of this is a result of pure, unadulterated laziness, a culture of innovation discourages the steely resolve required to institutionalize its results. If everyone is off trying to discover “the next big thing,” who will refine and tweak yesterday’s big thing? There are people drawn to each end of the spectrum, and the trick with creating a so-called culture of innovation is identifying and encouraging the innovators, but also identifying those who can clean up the mess they leave in their wake, refine it, and grow and nurture it.

If you are one of the later, you are equally important to the innovation process, and savvy companies must recognize that fact to gain maximum advantage from innovation. And, if you can wield a hammer, please give me a call. I have a few projects, err innovations, which could use some care and feeding.

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