Posted by laura on

When ‘innovation’ is a euphemism for ‘change’

At the Propteq conference yesterday, someone asked a great question: “What is innovation?”

It’s not a new question of course. Whole treatises have been written on the subject, by Clay Christensen and others. But it remains a huge subject of debate, especially within large, long-established companies.

For these companies, innovation is often a euphemism for change.

Leaders like innovation. Innovation is safe. It’s positive. Innovation means handing over an already-empty floor of their underpopulated offices to an accelerator programme for start-ups. Innovation means renting a space in Shoreditch and filling it with some of the company’s brightest young things.

This sort of innovation is something that happens at arm’s length. It looks good but it doesn’t require fundamental change in the company or the people who lead it.

It’s smartwash.

Real change is scary and difficult. People don’t like to talk about change.

If they talk about it, they might actually have to do it. So instead they talk euphemistically about ‘innovation’. And this drives a very different behaviour. Instead of tackling the real problems at the core of the business, they skirt around them. They create some high-tech window dressing.

This is the type of behaviour that sees major corporations sleepwalk into disaster.


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Tom Cheesewright