Innovation Is Overrated

What?!?! Innovation overrated? How could I possibly be so stupid?

Ok, so I’m not totally serious, because obviously innovation is critical and at the core of so many businesses. But I’m sick and tired of CEOs (and then newspaper headlines) proudly declare that “Innovation is the key.” Bezos, Barrett, Fiorna, and so many others. Even when I opened the March 4th blurb in my Daily Drucker (book), today’s excerpt was on innovation.

Every other day a new article comes out heralding innovation – so much to the point that I can see a lot of start up entrepreneurs scratching their heads saying “How in the world am I supposed to innovate amidst everything else I have going on?” In other words, many successful businesses just provide a simple, eloquent solution to a problem and lots of times use existing technology to do it. The key is they assemble what’s already out there in a new/interesting way or simply provide better/faster/more professional service.

In a same-old same-old interview in this month’s Harvard Business Review, there is in fact an interesting tidbit from Michael Dell on why Dell isn’t the typical “invent” company and how a lot of R&D money is wasted.

My sense is that when people think “innovation” they think crazy robots or some cutting edge mind-reading technology. That’s a shame.

3 Responses to Innovation Is Overrated

  1. Will Pate says:

    You’re right: innovation is becoming a buzzword, but that doesn’t negate its value. When we typically think of the word, we think of R&D groups churning out far out new gizmos and services.

    It’s more about putting on your “how do we get this job done better for a customer” hats and looking at what we have already. You’ll find more times than you would expect that most of what you need is already around you. Using an existing tool or set of tools in a new way, to provide an elegant solution to a problem is innovation; an underrated form I might add.

    And don’t listen to Michael Dell for inspiration. His lack of innovation and focus on making the cheapest hardware bundles (they hardly qualify as coherent machines) means that his products suck.

  2. Ben Casnocha says:

    I think your comments on right on Will…except for the Michael Dell caricature. Dell has one of the highest R&D to profit ratios in the industry and their innovation around distribution is killer. You may have had a bad experience with them but I know of many people who wouldn’t dare pick another company for their laptop. Anecdotal customer stories aren’t representative, anyway, so I think it’s important to analyze this dispassionately.

  3. Will Pate says:

    Ok, I will give them credit – they disintermediated the retailers by selling directly online to customers.

    I hate to derail, but in regards to the quality of Dell laptops I’m skeptical of writing off the overwhelming anecdotal evidence I’ve seen as unrepresentative. Since I wrote the post about my Dell horror-story I’ve received many emails from people asking if I wanted to join class action lawsuits, petitions and better business bureau complaints. Everytime someone tells me about their problem laptop, well lo and behold it turns out to be a Dell. Then there are the stories of smart people like Dave Pollard and Dina Mehta.

    But anyway, I shouldn’t derail. Innovation is more interesting to talk about anyway :)

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