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Businesses Science

Is Innovation the Most Abused Word In Business? 287

dcblogs writes "Most of what is called innovation today is mere distraction, according to a paper by economist Robert Gordon, written for the National Bureau of Economic Research. Real innovations involve things like the combustion engine or air conditioning, not the smartphone. The paper includes thought experiments to help you gain more respect for genuine innovations such as indoor plumbing. The Financial Times has posted the complete 25-page paper.(pdf)"
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Is Innovation the Most Abused Word In Business?

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  • by HungryHobo ( 1314109 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @05:39AM (#41176385)

    An innovation can be as small as a neat new way of handling some user interaction which nobody has done before or a heuristic which solves a hard problem but at the same time people from buisness or management backgrounds or courses do set an insanely low bar for what they consider "innovation".

    If you were to believe buisness grads then "innovation" includes their "ideas" along the lines of "a website like *only better*" or "that thing which everyone is already doing but which I think is my neat new idea"

  • by Stormthirst ( 66538 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @05:47AM (#41176401)

    I agree - there's a difference between innovation and incremental improvements.

  • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @05:57AM (#41176433) Journal

    It's those damn civil service exams. They've turned from testing wit to confirming robotic obeisance to a particular worldview.

  • No (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Ganty ( 1223066 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:00AM (#41176439)

    It's 'Syngergy', along with maybe 'Wellness'.

    And why are salesmen now called 'Sales Executives'?


  • Patent Troll 101 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by some old guy ( 674482 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:06AM (#41176465)

    "Innovation" is a favorite term of patent trolls and other technovultures to describe nebulous ideas as patentable products that are nothing more than vaporware.

    Of course, the list of engineering carrion-feeders is long and distinguished. You can be a Fortune 100 company and still be a patent troll from the standpoint of registering ethereal brain-farts as IP.

  • Re:No (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:07AM (#41176469)

    My salesman pet peeve is in the financial industry. Calling salemen "Financial Advisors" kills me. The only advice they're going to give you is how to steer you into financial products that increases their book the most - like vairable annuities.

  • by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:12AM (#41176487) Homepage

    Rounded corners FTW!

  • Re:Yes (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:15AM (#41176499) Homepage

    The size of the innovations isn't the problem, the problem is the size of what the patent office accepts as 'innovation'. Currently we're at "rounded corners" and it doesn't seem to be moving in an upwards direction.

  • by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:16AM (#41176501) Homepage

    Really, it's an euphemism for "invention", but used to describe things that do not qualify for patents.

    What should be said in its place is "improvement", "engineering" and anything done by "knowledge workers".

  • Wrong. (Score:0, Insightful)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:18AM (#41176509) Homepage Journal

    The iPad is about as innovative as the toaster. You can still read books without an iPad, and you can still toast bread without a toaster.

    - wrong from the very first sentence.

    The innovation here was not specifically the function of the device, the innovation was the ability of the company to present a new type of product that delivers functionality in a way that people feel is better, that is all.

    Innovation does not have to be invention. Those are separate, different words.

    Innovation CAN be something simple, it can be simply a better EXECUTION of the same thing as before, but done more efficiently, cheaper, faster, prettier even.

    Innovation does not mean 'revolution', it should means 'better' for some purpose.

  • by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:38AM (#41176573) Journal

    The "innovation" word has certainly been abused in business contexts. However, to assert that it is the most abused word is less clear. After all, competition for that accolade (in a manner of speaking) is fairly stiff. There are many words from the MBA lexicon with even greater claim, such as leverage, incentivize, and similar linguistic horrors.

  • No - Passion is.. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by dwkns ( 2607961 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:45AM (#41176597)
    'Passion' is the most abused word. Don't tell people you are passionate - show them!!! I stare wordlessly at people who misuse the word passion for an inappropriate amount of time. Very quickly they realise what they have done wrong. Actually it works for all of the abused words. Innovation, solutions, synergy etc. Try it, it's fun.
  • by Viol8 ( 599362 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @07:11AM (#41176673) Homepage

    A small computer with some radio hardware is all they are. Pretending otherwise just makes you seem deluded. And they weren't an innovation, they were simply a progression of what had come before. There was no quantum leap despite what apple fanbois might have us believe since touchscreens have been around for decades and apple even used them on the dog that bombed called the Newton.

  • Re:it's Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Alex Belits ( 437 ) * on Thursday August 30, 2012 @07:21AM (#41176709) Homepage

    Sugary coffee is most definitely a solution. And a suspension... To think of it, it's usually an emulsion, too, if it is with cream.

  • Obvious (Score:4, Insightful)

    by itsdapead ( 734413 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:14AM (#41176949)

    innovations involve things like the combustion engine or air conditioning

    Pah. Obvious variations on the Carnot heat-engine cycle! As for indoor plumbing - that's just a small aqueduct with a lid and rounded corners!

    Seriously, though, I think it's useful to have a word for "did not invent but turned into a practical and useful product". E.g. the first internal-combustion engine cars were not exactly user friendly - others adapted them for the mass-market. That takes the foresight to spot an invention with potential, a ton of cash to invest and a willingness to take risks.

    The problem with the patent system is that only really works in a nostalgic fantasy world when an engineer declares "Gosh, I've just made an important discovery about thermodynamics - how do I share that with the scientific community without sacrificing my competitive edge in the steam engine market". It relies on the blunt instrument of the legal system to make tricky, subjective decisions on whether or not ideas are obvious, when even the experts in that field would probably argue.

    If you could find a suitable genius polymath capable of making such judgements and prepared to work in a patent office, they'd probably get bored with all the bureaucracy and just sit there daydreaming about riding on the beams of light coming in through the window...

  • by Patch86 ( 1465427 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:14AM (#41176951)

    "Vehicles that can fly" is a pretty huge incremental step from "Vehicles that can't fly". It's a big leap like that which we tend to call "innovation". Little steps aren't innovation- even though they're often even more useful. The Wright Brother innovated when they managed to put together the first working aeroplane- but it wasn't all that useful. When someone took their plane and made minor incremental improvements to speed, durability, capacity, etc. they weren't innovating, but they did create something truly valuable. When Boeing made the Jumbo Jet it wasn't an "innovation" (it's just a bigger version of what they already built)- but it was damned clever and useful.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:21AM (#41176979) Homepage Journal

    yep.. MBAs *never* misuse these terms.

    lolz... :P

    If you're one of the good ones, good for you.

  • by tomhath ( 637240 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:45AM (#41177127)

    The rivets in airplanes are only now being partially replaced.

    There are good reasons to rivet together individual pieces of metal instead of welding them together. For one thing, a crack will move across a weld much easier than it can cross a riveted seam. Ships, skyscrapers, and bridges were also riveted together for the same reason. Today the engineers are getting better with materials and welding so eventually rivets will be obsolete, but there's nothing really wrong with using them.

  • by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:56AM (#41177213)
    ... Microsoft was one of the worst offenders a decade or so ago. Microsoft used the term "innovation" as a cover-up for their stifling monopolistic-like practices in the PC world. "Innovation" in the 1990's is what got Microsoft where it is today - an aging, bloated, internally-conflicted organization.
  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @09:10AM (#41177339) Homepage

    I'm going to make the case for putting "incentivize" near or at the top, because it's quite common, and used to obfuscate rather than enlighten.

    For instance, when a politician talks about incentivizing investment, what he really means is that he wants to lower the capital gains tax. When a marketing executive says he wants to incentivize customer engagement, he means something along the lines of increasing sales with a "win a free iPod" contest or something similar. When somebody talks about incentivizing employees, they're talking about making coworkers compete each other for a limited number of perks (or remaining head count after a layoff) in the hopes that all employees work harder. And when a loan shark talks about incentivizing borrowers, he means breaking kneecaps.

  • by serviscope_minor ( 664417 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @09:18AM (#41177403) Journal

    You can also replace panels much more easily if they're rivited. Like for instance when one of the catering supplies vehicles reverses into the side of a plane.

    Every so often you will see planes with funny, oddly painted panels on the outside. Basically pretty much every part is replacable, and many do in fact get replaced throughout the life of the plane.

  • by oxdas ( 2447598 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @09:37AM (#41177607)

    I think the point is more that someone didn't wake up one day and invent the steam engine out of thin air. What came to be known as the steam engine evolved slowly (over hundreds of years in the case of the steam engine) with incremental changes, not all at once.

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