All that is not Innovation

[Also published on Linkedin November 4, 2015 –]
According to the many current uses of the word “Innovation” it can now be used for anything that is new or minimally different with no further qualification. The word “Innovation” has lost all its real meaning and power. We have reached the point where any web application, mobile application, or even a redesign of the handle of a teapot can be termed an Innovation. “Innovation” has become such a loose word it now practically means nothing. Simply digitising a business is not innovating, no matter how bleeding edge the technology used. If we are to capture the essence of what true “Innovation” really is, we need to look closely at the consequences.

  1. “Innovation” has to be an upheaval, and bring about major opportunities, business, social and technical. The Internet is an example of the most innovative technology that has helped create major opportunities, and is the core enabler of the information age. Your web application or your e-commerce site is only a consequence of the Internet, and in a few (very few) cases these applications have brought about major life style changes in the consumers. There changes continue to effect the behaviour and needs of the consumers even after this many years of the Internet. All this is because of the Internet, your application is just exploiting the opportunity provided by the Internet. The more innovative your application the greater the chance your application will further the changes in consumer behavioural patterns.
  2. On the mobile device the concept and enablement of the mobile application is a great “Innovation,” kudos to the OS providers. But, not every mobile application you develop can claim to be an Innovation, in fact most of them are not. Almost all are games, few are enterprise employee outreach application, some are windows for executing transactions from the backend legacy systems. There have been very few game changers, perhaps due to the many security, snooping, and safe harbour (this is a problem for all types of applications) misuse of data issues.
  3. Wearables may fit the mark for our understanding for Innovation, but only if they can displace the current clutter of devices (in particular the mobile phone). If all they do is complement the current devices then the current lot of wearables are only serving as a bridge to the true wearable yet to evolve.
  4. Software vendors have a habit of calling every piece of code (representing some idea or other) an Innovation. Providing an API is not an Innovation, in fact if you don’t do so you will not make money, and loose your credibility in the market. Implementing what the market or your client wants is not an Innovation either, it would be counter productive to your survival to not do so, while you watch your competition steal a march on you. Software vendors talk of reducing their Innovation cycle, what they really mean by this is that they have reduced their release cycle. Software that enables businesses to innovate are true innovations, helping businesses to just run their businesses is not Innovation, it is just a form of automation.
  5. Unlike software vendors, platform vendors (as in the cloud) are true Innovators, and as game changers their impact is yet to be fully felt in the industry. One of the best examples of Innovation that will lead to major design think is AWS lambda.

The term “Innovation” has now been reduced to nothing more than a sound bite. It is used for marketing purposes and to camouflage the lack of traits that we would identify as ready made for Innovation to happen. We should not be too surprised by this turn of events since exactly the same has happened to the term “Agile”. It is in human nature to believe that every idea that is had, every piece of code that is written, every design that is done, and every product that is delivered is an Innovation, that will lead to economic tremors in the market. Along the way we also dilute the value of the word we use to express our achievement.

About KM Mukku

Kick-start, build and manage teams in product development (particularly in the financial domain), and enjoy all in adaptive case management, business process design and business process improvement. Currently holding the position of CTO at coMakeIT.
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