Innovation For Innovation's Sake?

Innovate or Die TattooInnovate or die, that is more or less the motto I have been hearing when working as a consultant with organizations in the last few years. Innovation has become fashion and if you don’t put it into your values and your strategy you surely will perish as an organization in the next few years… Or at least that is what they try to tell me.

Now, I would like to say something so obvious, but what a lot of people forget: innovation for innovation’s sake does not bring any value whatsoever. Innovation needs to be directed to be of any value. To be more specific, if innovation efforts at your company do not have clear objectives they might lead you to spent loads of money on something that has no value to the organization.

An organization has to ask itself the continuous questions:

  • Why am I innovating,
  • In what should I be innovative,
  • How innovative should I be,
  • Where am I going to create value?

For example, does it make sense for a large mining company to be the most innovative company in the world, to bring constantly new products to the market? Maybe not, maybe this company should be innovative enough to bring down cost far enough to make a huge profit on operations.

My view is that one should always focus innovation efforts to support the companies strategy in the short, middle and long term. This means asking the following type of questions: Do I want to enter into new markets? How can innovation support this? Do I want to bring cost down by 20% over the next three years? How can innovation support this?

Of course it is always good to leave an opening for innovations that do not initially seem to support the companies´ strategy, and might even change the strategy. But for these type of innovations, you will need to have a clever process to evaluate, support and direct them (or not).

Innovation for innovation’s sake? Please no!

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Caspar van RijnbachCaspar van Rijnbach is a specialist in innovation management and partner at TerraForum Consulting in Brazil – and Co-author of “Innovation: Breaking Paradigms” and “Management 2.0’’ (in Portuguese).

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Caspar van Rijnbach




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  1. Ellen Bouter on June 21, 2010 at 11:32 am


    Please… indeed don´t innovate fot innovations sake!
    I´m manager in education. Here in Holland we have a lot of innovations initiated by the goverment trying to improve the education in primary and secondary schools. A lot of these innovations are never proved or even evidence based. So a lot of teachers are frustrated because it did not work. A lot of spoiled energy I think. So please listen to the people on workingfloor and together search for the right and most execellent solutions!

    thanks Caspar!

  2. H. van Rijnbach on June 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm

    Sometimes innovation depends on time and the taste of people. In the ’60 all radio’s had two buttons: volume and tuning. Than, in the ’80 radio’s had 3000 buttons. And at last, nowadays, the most modern radio’s have again two buttons: volume and tuning. Was this innovation not necessary? Not for the innovation itself, but for company’s it sells. Marketing-innovation.

    best regards,

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