The Innovation Buzzword







Wikipedia defines a buzzword as “a word that has begun to be used in the wider society outside of its original context by nonspecialists who use the term vaguely or imprecisely. Labeling a term a “buzzword” often pejoratively implies that it is now used pretentiously and inappropriately by individuals with little understanding of its actual meaning who are most interested in impressing others by making their discourse sound more esoteric, obscure, and technical than it otherwise would be.”

Too often it seems, innovation has been largely reduced to buzzword status across our many sectors.  Senior executives are very vocal in talking about innovation, however it all too often stops at the talking. When the talk does not translate to meaningful action leading to outcomes, innovation is a buzzword.

In spite of its buzzword status and the cynicism it is often met with by staff, it remains a word that is mandatory in corporate-speak. Innovation is spoken of in glowing terms of the potential it offers with insufficient focus given to the action required for it to happen. When this is happening, innovation is a buzzword.

We’ve all heard Senior executives spruik innovation and tell us that “we need to think differently” and that “we need to be challenged”, however when actual challenges come, very little changes in the modus operandi of dealing with them. We still default to the linear and structured approaches of the past. New and creative approaches are shunned and when this occurs, innovation is little more than a buzzword.

The use of “the innovation word” in many cases amounts to little more than a form of ‘bureaucratic chicanery’. When this occurs, words, glossy brochures, a new “portal” and talking about action, substitute for innovation itself. The Federal Govt’s now not so recent 2020 summit proved a all too common example of the “bureaucratisation of Innovation”.  Lots of talk, lots of promotion, but very little action resulting.

When you can look under desks in organisations and see rolls of butcher paper containing post-it-notes full of ideas gathering dust, you know that innovation is a buzzword.

If we can put Innovation” into enough speeches, documents, ppt presentations and action plans though, we must then be doing innovation. Right?

In organisations where everything is first viewed through via lenses of risk and our patterns of past experience, it is very difficult to gain the permission required to undertake the thinking and  experimenting needed for the innovation to happen.

Too often in large organisations, those more likely to challenge the status quo and attempt to do things differently are the ones most likely to be sidelined and dis-empowered. Often, it just does not pay to stick ones head above the parapet for fear of it being removed! When staff are not engaged and routinely working ON the business, innovation is just a buzzword.

Innovation does not have to be expensive. It does not have to be time-consuming. The belief that it must be so underpins a lack of understanding of how to drive it. There is no risk in temporarily organising the staff to lift their eyes from the operational and focus on innovation. The greatest risk lies in not making the time and space for them to do so.

So, while those same issues and opportunities that were there last year and the year before remain this year, we are still doing too much talking about innovation.

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Frank has worked across Australia, South East Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa where he has trained and facilitated multiple thinking methods and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.

Comments (2)

  1. James De Vere :

    Hello Frank. Brilliantly done essay. “Innovation,” could be a weasel word by now, certainly. Me, personally, I decry the decline in entrepreneurship and risk taking. The ocean’s full of ideas with few willing to dip their toes in; taking a risk at applying all the wonderful ideas. Thanks again. James

  2. Frank Connolly :

    Great pick up James. I did toy with the “weasel word” vernacular but thought it might be a bit confronting given most don’t deliberately obfuscate in this space. Their organisational imperatives and a lack of knowledge on how to proceed is the issue. Keep up the good work!


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