Is Innovation Holding Us Back?

The drive for innovation in business is getting out of hand. Innovation has gone beyond the status of a mere buzzword, so much so that even the term taken out of context still manages to sound electric, dynamic, and sexy. Today, innovation is being actively embraced as a business mantra, and management gurus will tell you that to succeed as a business these days, to keep up with the pace of changing technology and consumer trends, you better make innovation a primary goal in your operations. But this message is misleading at best.

The Cost of Innovation

Why the drive for innovation can hurt your businessIn the sweeping movement for change and advancement, there has been too little emphasis on the very real costs and dangers of focusing too much on innovation, on establishing a culture of collective collaboration, and of taking big risks. The problem is not innovation per se, it’s in the way innovation is being implemented and glorified as a business ideal.

The fact is that many businesses get innovation wrong. Instead of expanding their reach and increasing sales, their promising ideas and activities only end up sending them down the innovation death spiral. The problem is that innovation itself has become the goal instead of the natural outcome of a healthy business model.

People point to companies such as Nike or Amazon that are well known for their insanely successful products, services, and ideas, and try to mimic them. But, they leave out the systems, processes, and agendas that these companies have in place to achieve those results.

These companies are getting tripped up by a big, gaping disconnect between the knowledge they are exposed to and the actions they are taking. Innovation that stems from businesses or entrepreneurs who are disconnected from their core competencies as well as those they are trying to serve, will only end in failure. Yet, as a culture, this kind of failure is often glorified, even where no effort has been made to reflect on what happened in order to avoid such failures in the future.

It reminds me of a TED Talk Susan Cain gave last year where she discussed the power of introverts in world where introspection and quiet self-reflection are becoming something to be ashamed of. I myself am an introvert, so I could identify with her points, and I see the obsession with innovation as a fallout of these trends. A quiet revolution may not come with fireworks, but it is often the most effective and lasting one because the people involved have spent some time reflecting on and integrating the knowledge that is before them in order to make sound decisions. They are also more likely to remain focused on the right goals.

We as a society and as individuals are loosing touch with ourselves. In the race to innovate, to be different, to change the world, to be the “round pegs in the square holes,” something very valuable and important is getting left behind- ourselves. When the focus is on change, we can discount the things that are already present and don’t take the time to let what we’ve just learned sink in a bit. We don’t appreciate the things that are working, and in the process we can end up over-looking the real opportunities for advancement and growth that are within our reach.

Now, I know that I generally focus on micro business topics on this blog, and this seems to be a big business issue. But, the problem is that many start ups and smaller companies are getting caught up all all the hoopla. As a micro business owner trying to stand out in a crowded, noisy field, don’t forget to focus on the simple truths and core competencies that make you and your business unique and rememberable. It doesn’t have to be loud or even different. There doesn’t have to be fireworks. True innovation comes from connection, conviction, and calculated risk. When that is in place, you may find your business soaring past your competitors who are just too busy trying to be sensational.

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