The New Psychology Behind ‘Innovation’ in Big Companies

By David Sauter, CEO

Published: January 28, 2014

“The Wall Street Journal published a funny (and brutally honest) takedown of a word that has achieved almost-mythical status among business thinkers. That word is innovation, and it’s quickly losing whatever meaning it once had.” As we turned the corner on 2014, more and more people have noticed that innovation is no more than a fluffy, marketing word. There’s just no real meat behind it anymore.

Every company in the world claims innovation in their products, processes, and results. Yet, if everyone claims it, no one is actually doing it. Or those who are have found alternative ways to articulate and put it into practice to separate themselves from the masses. If it’s lost its luster as we suggest it has, what exactly does ‘innovation’ mean or, even better, is there a new way to communicate the importance of driving long lasting change in companies striving to grow in market share and sales in 2014?

At its peak, innovation is the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs. The problem? Claimed ‘innovations’ these days just aren’t meeting that standard anymore.

Innovation Lightbulb

“Wall Street Journal writer Dennis Berman began his attack on innovation by citing Kellogg CEO John Bryant, the respected head of a well-run company, who was describing one of its ‘innovations’ for 2013. What was the game-changing, head-spinning new offering that Kellogg unveiled? The Gone Nutty! Peanut-butter Pop-Tart. That’s right, a world that has had to survive for decades with Pop-Tart flavors such as strawberry, raspberry, and cinnamon, can now revel in the spirit of innovation that delivered a Pop-Tart with peanut butter.”

Couple Kellogg’s new Pop-Tart with any Apple product and campaign ever produced and you already have a stark contrast.” Apple’s business model is simple, sporting an almost child-like wonder. Apple’s goal, as is so often reiterated by Tim Cook when analysts press him about “new product categories” and “margins,” is to develop the world’s best products. Once Apple has that, it believes that the sales — the payday for the shareholders, if you will — flows naturally from adhering to this principle.” Whether it’s in the iPod, iPad, or iPhone — although apple is ‘innovative,’ they’ve never needed to say it; simply because their products are built for the customer in a way that drives demand.

Thus, you can emerge as a winner by spending less time emphasizing the “innovation” and more on emphasizing the customer experience.

Surpass ‘Innovation’ in 2014 With A ‘Gut, Data, Gut’ Approach

Getting out of the innovation rut and taking on a new mindset all begins by letting your guard down and welcoming a new approach. Gut, Data, Gut is the business strategy for 2014, as well as a guiding principle for us at Envano. When it comes to strategic planning and pursuing new business opportunities, rather than working solely from instinct, or becoming paralyzed by too much data, take an approach in the middle where you quickly gain data and test your gut instincts to create “informed intuition.” When exploring new or better solutions to meet new requirements, unarticulated needs, or existing market needs – relying only on gut welcomes increased risk and relying only on data often leads to analysis paralysis and no action. Coupling gut feel, initial data, and then pushing forward based on that data discovery has the best potential to lead to unique and actionable business decisions in products, services, and processes across the board.

Choose the ‘innovation’ that everyone is touting, or the new Gut, Data, Gut approach that facilitates true change and forces a positive shift in internal process.

Either way, “words matter — in business and in life. Companies that aspire to do extraordinary things, leaders who aim to challenge the limits of what’s possible in their fields, develop a “vocabulary of competition” that captures the impact they’re trying to have, the difference they’re trying to make, the future they’re hoping to create. Like Apple, almost none of these companies and leaders use the word “innovation” to describe their strategy — implicitly or explicitly, they understand that it has been sapped of all substance. Instead, they offer rich and vivid descriptions of what they hope to do, where they hope to get, and why it matters.” When innovation begins to describe everything, it means nothing and if we stick with that status quo, we fall only into the hyped blather that bars the ordinary companies from the extraordinary.

So next time you find yourself harping on the importance of ‘innovation’ in your strategic planning, connect with us for insight into a new approach — because ‘innovation’ just doesn’t cut it anymore.