What is innovation? It is not a ‘Like’ Button, or applications which promote me-ism

A general note on Innovation, especially for those who believe that me-Millenial self-absorption applications are ‘innovation’ (self-absorption is just that, and be definition cannot be innovative).

What is innovation?
Technology is not innovation. Innovation does not require technology. Just because a pizza-eater in a dark basement invented a ‘like’ button does not mean it is innovative. Neither is a new mouse-trap, unless it solves a problem. Business is about solving a problem. Innovation is about solving a problem, or at the very least, making a noticeable improvement with a new system, idea, or product. This is aptly summed up by a technology analyst (highlights are mine):

“What annoyed me was that the group seemed to consider “technology” a synonym for innovation. But you don’t need technology to innovate. True innovation is about doing something new: developing better processes or bringing improved products and services to market. Innovation can be the newest technology, or just a new idea – such as when supermarkets learned to multiply their profit on a piece of fruit by pre-slicing it for today’s on-the-run consumer.Conversely, much of technology today is far from innovative – from Amazon’s stone-cold Fire phone to the dorky Google Glass, that unnerved everyone around the (few) people who dared to wear that device.” (Tencer, 2015)

Group think. Rife everywhere. Follow the herd (right off the cliff).

I agree with Tencer. Technology is not innovation. An example is Apple’s useless ‘smart watch’ which is both ridiculous and a waste of money. It solves no problem, except the problem statement of how quickly one can part with $600.

The above quote is in line with academia. Harvard (2003) proposes that innovation is the following:
• Page 5: 30% reduction in cost; improvements in known features of 5 times; entire new feature sets
• Page 8: radical innovation is risky, time consuming, costly, hard to manage
• Page 10: avoid bells and whistles but don’t always rely on incremental innovation

As usual the academics hedge their bets. Don’t do only incremental innovation that is risky. But ‘radical’ innovation is also risky, so go fast but be slow. However, the nexus of the article is that there must be some tangible, differential benefit to resolving an issue, for an idea or product to be innovative. This article maintains that true innovation is the merging of products and processes and gives Pilkington glass as an example.

Sawhney et al (2006) also support the idea that processes and products once merged into a new system, really define innovation: “we define business innovation as the creation of substantial new value for customers and the firm by creatively changing one or more dimensions of the business system.” (Sawhney et al 2006, p.76)

They go on to explain basically the same ideas as Tencer and Harvard (2003). One can take this framework and apply it to many useless technologies. For example, Farcebook, forums, IMs, online gaming, online pornography, video games and the like. These are time wasters, which by definition, cannot be innovative. Many are harmful, illegal, and immoral.

For example, how does Farcebook, or indeed many of the ‘Me-Millenial’ applications one can find now in their thousands, support the above definitions? Is self-absorption now innovative? Or is it destruction, leading to isolation and pathology?

Consider what Sawhney et al are saying and consider that many ‘innovations’:
• Do not merge products or processes.
• Rarely add business value.
• Do not decrease costs but instead adds to costs through a loss of productivity.
• Are full of ‘bells and whistles’ or non-inventions such as a ‘like’ button (wow).
• Do not offer ‘substantial new value’ for anyone except those selling to you (Sawhney et al 2006).

Real innovation is the steam engine, the railway, the canal with its locks, the gas lamp, the book binding process, the blast furnace, the micro-chip, the wireless network, even a restaurant that comes up with a new menu and offering to cater to fast food. it is not people wasting time with devices or platforms which do not add value or resolve a problem.

Technology is not innovation. Innovation is not about technology.
Creativity conceives an idea. Innovation implements the idea (Tencer, 2015).

Harvard Business School Press, (2003) ‘Types of Innovation: Several Types on Many Fronts’, in Managing Creativity and Innovation, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing Available at: https://cb.hbsp.harvard.edu/cbmp/pl/55724804/55724901/bf951d22f7642eb75721f93d0d15c444, (accessed: 18/08/17)

Sawhney, M., R. C. Wolcott, & I. Arroniz, (2006) ‘The Twelve Different Ways for Companies to Innovate’, MIT Sloan Management Review, 47 (3) pp.75-81

Tencer, K (2015). ‘Why Technology is not a Synonym for Innovation’. Globe and Mail. Available at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/small-business/sb-managing/four-great-innovation-opportunities-that-arent-technology/article25207445/ (accessed: 23-08-17)

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