Niladri Gupta, Lancaster University Management School The siren song of innovation

The word ‘innovation’ has always been the siren’s song for me. I am attracted to it beyond any reason or logic. It makes me different and unemployable for the regular day-to-day entry level jobs.

New and innovative ideas about diverse things sometimes haunt me in my dreams and sometimes I have had to actively blank out ideas that are completely unrelated to my area of work. Every time I hear or read the word ‘innovation’, my first reaction is to try to know everything about it or the concept and how it works. I take those concepts apart in my mind and try to reassemble them and discover the innovative thought or concept in them. That’s why I care about the word and the concept of ‘innovation’. It needs a lot of creativity and diversity of thought and action. One size does not fit all.

Unfortunately innovation is one of the most abused words by businesses and bloggers worldwide. I am yet to find a company that has not used the word in their mission statement. New, novelty, different, creativity, invention and innovation are all used interchangeably both in thought and use. I beg to differ. These are not interchangeable with the word innovation. They make ‘innovation’ synonymous with Ponzi schemes.

Most consumers are unable to understand how those products or services work and their value increases depending on the number of new consumers that adopt the service or product. I feel that those are not innovations at all. Innovations bring fundamental changes to how companies work or consumers behave and use the products or services in their lives. If it is just one more new thing or service that no one understands but pays a premium to obtain, it’s not innovation it is a Ponzi scheme.

Thinkers and professors who are much smarter than me have defined innovation in great detail. There are numerous books and blogs and articles about innovation. I don’t have the qualification or the urge to disprove their premises but to me the word ‘innovation’ is sacred. I only use it for rare items or ways that change the world in a very fundamental way and make it better and sustainable. Real innovations require a lot of creativity and a fundamental understanding of how things or services work.

Some authors have termed this as disruptive innovation. As Aaron Levie, entrepreneur and chief executive of Box, the enterprise cloud company, says, “disruption is the art of identifying which parts of the past are no longer relevant to the future and exploiting the delta at all costs”. That for me is the fundamental definition of innovation. It shows a deep understanding of how things work and tries to cut out the obsolete. That is ‘innovation’ in its truest sense. That’s what makes or breaks industries. That is what everybody deep in their hearts believes about innovation.

This type of innovation is rare but can change the world. It is a highly creative process where new and diverse thinking is important, the status quo needs to be challenged. This is the type of innovation that true entrepreneurs should be working on. These ground breaking innovations are what make life exciting and make me fall in love with life and discovery and inventions.