Strategic CIO // Team Building & Staffing
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8/16/2013
09:47 AM
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Innovation Is Executive Porn

When it comes to both innovation and porn, there's a huge appetite for fantasy.

You're ingratiating peddlers, selling the business fantasy that innovation is a repeatable discipline. You are to business insight what American Apparel is to advertising. If your books were pictures, the only thing missing would be the creepy wood paneling in the background.

Your output is intellectual pulp. To demonstrate, here's fun exercise No. 3: how to identify substance in business books. The next time you read something about innovation or leadership, replace each instance of the buzzword with "excellence" (or "being excellent"). If you're Gen Y, this exercise also works with "awesomeness" and "being awesome." If, after the switch, the book still makes sense, burn it.

For instance, Peter Drucker speaking to today's youth: "Being awesome is about lifting a person's vision to high sights, the raising of a person's performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations."

My favorites are the ones where you can't tell if the cult leader is talking about leadership or innovation. Anthony Robbins, who I nominate to join the illustrious authors of hbr.org: "Awesomeness is really a daily habit, whereby you constantly reassess what your customers need now, and what they will need in a few years."

Even people we all admire. Vince Lombardi: "Being awesome rests not only upon ability, not only upon capacity; having the capacity to be awesome is not enough. An awesome person must be willing to use it. His awesomeness is then based on truth and character."

Sniff. Brings a tear to my eye.

My favorite quote of late is Karl Ronn's "Companies that think they have an innovation problem, don't have an innovation problem. They have a leadership problem." It's a winning formula. Key word: formula.

Fun exercise No. 4: Fill in this template with any problem you can imagine: "Companies that think they have a _______ problem, don't have a ______ problem. They have a leadership problem." It's almost religious in its truth. Even self-referential, Inception-inspired versions make sense: "Companies that think they have a leadership problem, don't have a leadership problem. They have a leadership problem."

Clap.

Look, we all need a path to retirement. Something that doesn't involve cat food. Selling innovation to senior management is like marketing cigarettes to kids.

Stop it.

Yet Another Fake Addiction

There are too many parallels between innovation and porn for me (or you) to waste any more time on this subject: Both mismanage expectations, objectify the important half of a partnership, confuse the meaningless with the meaningful. What's important is that both have the kind of apocryphal allure that inspires addiction.

Anyone who suggests that innovation can be a repeatable discipline is either selling consulting services or writing a book (so they can sell consulting services). If you're one of those folks, don't worry. Your motivational speaking gigs are safe, for the same reason that porn actors are all "stars": There will always be a huge appetite for fantasy.

For the rest of us, let's recognize that an unhealthy focus on innovation diminishes the value of everyday business activity. There's nothing that I could write here that wasn't better expressed by Thomas Edison: "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."

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Tom Mariner
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Tom Mariner,
User Rank: Strategist
8/21/2013 | 5:46:20 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
Pay attention class -- "Cloverlet" has just dropped a biggie, "they forget that the loaf itself isn't the innovation; the manufacture of it is." Our very Intellectual Property laws protect an idea, not the production of the idea into something useful. As the author points out, our fantasies are of this lone geek with a light bulb above his head as the pinnacle, when it is actually the plan to get to the base camp.

Commercialization is where that geek faces the realities that will create a million happy customers. I've had cartoons of me and the light bulb flashed on screens, and my thought is always the same, "Call me when we have shipped a half million". Actually now I help make that happen and the one beef I have with the otherwise sage article is the belief that it takes just as long to get a mediocre product revision out the door as it does to do an iPad, or iPod or iPhone. It just takes a much bigger "set", the ability to give "agile" a whole new meaning, and the phrase "That's not good enough". But the thrill of "inventing tomorrow" is a pretty big high.

Love the pseudonym -- jealous I didn't think of it or even the fact one needed one.
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
8/20/2013 | 1:26:45 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
I'm currently judging a boatload of submissions to a certain awards program that holds forth innovation as one of its criteria. It amazes me what people try to pass off as creative, original and inspired. I used to think the ratio of crap to the real deal was 10 to 1, but I'm beginning to think Coverlet's 1,000 to ratio is closer to the mark.
Nathan Golia
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Nathan Golia,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 8:40:10 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
Take that, Harvard Business Review! Also, good points. The thing is, people try to copy innovators by identifying what they think the innovative company has that they lack. Too often, they miss, so they try to add more execs to the fire. Then you end up with, as you state, a bloated, impatient structure that stifles innovation.
Somedude8
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Somedude8,
User Rank: Ninja
8/19/2013 | 7:21:20 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
I sure need my boss to read this!
Scratch that, I sure need my boss to *understand* this.
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
8/19/2013 | 6:43:40 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
Excellent points about sliced bread and HBR. Few leading lights in academia actually spent significant time in a real workplace. Want to see a dysfunctional, siloed environment that gets blindsided by real innovation? Take a look at any college department.
OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 4:36:03 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
That looks fascinating--thanks!

Jim
Coverlet
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Coverlet,
User Rank: Strategist
8/19/2013 | 3:53:38 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
Too many chiefs. Not enough rangers.

Jim- If you haven't read it, try SC Gwynne's Empire of the Summer Moon. Better use of time than business books.
OtherJimDonahue
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OtherJimDonahue,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/19/2013 | 3:00:16 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
I'm going to take a crazy, wild guess that you're not a fan of the "Chief Innovation Officer" title then. (I'm about as fond of that as "Chief Technology Evangelist.")
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 2:50:42 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
You and Edison agree there's a lot of hard work to be done at work. That makes me think of the entrepreneur Tom Sawyer, who to recruit kids to help him paint a fence convinced them that fence painting was great fun. Thinking of our work as innovation might help us consider hard work as a bit more fun.
RobPreston
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RobPreston,
User Rank: Author
8/19/2013 | 2:36:51 PM
re: Innovation Is Executive Porn
Clap. (In its sincerest form.)
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