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Innovation Is Executive Porn

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

Coverlet Meshing

August 16, 2013

3 Min Read

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."

About the Author(s)

Coverlet Meshing

Contributor

The author, a senior IT executive at one of the nation's largest banks, shares his experiences under the pseudonym Coverlet Meshing. He has spent the last two decades in the financial services sector, picking a fight with anyone who doesn't understand that banks are actually software companies and need to invest in engineering as a core competency. His cheery outlook and diplomatic nature are rarely reflected in his writing. Write to him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @CoverletMeshing.

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