For a word as ubiquitous as innovation, it is poorly defined. I attended an “Innovation conference” this month and people were slinging the word around with such impressive velocity that either I was on the outside of a secret innovation club, or it’s our sector’s equivalent to saying “um” or “like.” When you don’t know what else to say, sprinkle the word “innovation” and “innovative” throughout your vocabulary and you’ll quickly establish yourself as a club member.
But instead of writing off innovation as another hackneyed concept in the impact zeitgeist, we need to press in. Keeping it in the realm of ambiguity only makes it more inaccessible. What is innovative is often less of a leap from the status quo than we think. The word conjures vague notions of new ideas, 3D-printed products, and futuristic business models. But some of the best innovations are often just slight tweaks on existing models. Innovation is more about borrowing than it is about inventing, more about adapting existing approaches to new markets and customers.
Fast Company just came out with its list of the 50 most innovative companies for 2018, and a striking number of them are “innovative” through adaptation, evolution, and tweaking versus through novelty, invention, and lab-based R&D.