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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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  • Innovation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hattig ( 47930 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @05:46AM (#41176395) Journal

    I'm sure that people understand that innovation isn't a black and white thing, and that some things are more innovative than others. Hence "the best thing since sliced bread" - i.e., something can be innovative but not as innovative as something else.

    In the long term, something is innovative if we cannot live our daily lives without it. For example - indoor plumbing, light bulbs. In terms of always available communication the mobile phone was completely innovative. And the smartphone merely enhanced that and merged in myriad other devices into the single unit. A total innovation in itself, and making that conglomeration of functionalities usable in itself is clearly an innovation.

    But maybe not as innovative as pre-sliced bread.

    (note, I don't actually think that pre-sliced bread is that innovative, but maybe the means by which it can be pre-sliced and then not go solid or stale quickly is.)

  • too many words (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ciderbrew ( 1860166 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:00AM (#41176437)
    The amount of new business/marketing speak that comes out of the U.S.A. is very innovative.
    Reach out to instead of contact is the thing that bugs me right now.
    George Carlin had a whole wonderful bit about this - "You will not hear me say: bottom line, game plan, role model, scenario, or hopefully." []
  • by Taco Cowboy ( 5327 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:19AM (#41176513) Journal

    Whether or not the word "innovation" has become the most abused word in the business context, that remains to be seen
    On the other hand, "innovation" itself has been abused by the patent trolls
    Innovators and inventors nowadays often find themselves in between a rock and a very hard place
    On one hand, they can get sued by patent trolls if they put their innovation to good use
    On the other hand, many of the innovators' livelihood depends on their ability to invent, to innovate, to create new things

  • it's Solution (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:33AM (#41176557)

    Have business stopped using the word "Solutions"? If not... I vote for that word. I'd be willing to bet that the only solution ever accurately received from a Solutions Provider has been a cup of sugary coffee.

  • Re:Innovation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Zontar The Mindless ( 9002 ) <> on Thursday August 30, 2012 @06:58AM (#41176641) Homepage

    What's really innovative about sliced bread is how they slice it without cutting the wrapper it comes in. Ingenious!

    I've no mod points today, but I think you've just won the thread. :)

  • Re:Innovation (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fearofcarpet ( 654438 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @07:18AM (#41176699)

    In my opinion, an innovation is something that no one thought of before and that performs better than its predecessors. It is not a synonym for invention or discovery. Take graphene for example. People had been working with it in various forms (usually called "exfoliated graphite") for decades because it has all the interesting properties of graphite, but with an enormous surface-area to volume ratio. Theorists predicted interesting properties in single, isolated sheets of graphite, and there was some evidence to support it, but nothing really came of it. Then someone got the idea to use scotch tape to rip off a few layers of graphene from bulk graphite, which eventually lead to a Nobel prize. The innovation wasn't the scotch tape, or the graphene, or even using scotch tape to exfoliate a laminar material; it was using scotch tape to exfoliate graphite.

    That one little innovation allowed all kinds of measurements that validated the intriguing properties of graphene and sparked a deluge of research across the physical sciences. Now, let's contrast it to something like the iPhone. Was that an innovation? I say no. Everyone had thought of the smartphone already--they were just waiting for the technology to catch up to expectation. People were using proto-iPads to keep track of stock trades decades [] before the iPod existed.

    I think that in the business world, success is equivalent to money and innovation drives success, therefore anything that makes money is innovative. And since things that make money are generally popular, they use the word "innovation" to describe creating something that is popular, which essentially boils down to having the right idea or product and the right time.Thus Apple--which makes very popular, well-designed products--has become synonymous with innovation. I'm not knocking Apple; convincing people to enter their credit card information in order to use a device that they already bought is pure genius. But what have they done that is really de novo, that was more than just clever or marketed effectively?

  • Re:Innovation (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Wovel ( 964431 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @07:41AM (#41176785) Homepage

    There is nothing in your post you can't live without.

  • by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @08:44AM (#41177123)

    For Example Synergy Is an aspect when people working in a team or a group produce more then the sum of each person.

    Sorry to disappoint you, but a group cannot produce more than the sum of each person.
    This is called Ringelmann effect: []
    it has been measured in 1914, by measuring the amount of effort of groups of different sizes.
    When you put 8 persons together, you get the amount of effort only 4 can produce.
    People unconsciously reduce their effort when they work in a team.

    What you can do is try to increase intrinsic motivation, so that not too much energy is lost in the group.
    Also, choose the best members for your team.

  • by Shazback ( 1842686 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @09:22AM (#41177437)
    The Ringelmann effect shows how in certain structures and certain tasks, group efficiency is decreased. However, Köhler showed that in other structures for other tasks (conjunctive tasks), the group can incentivize weaker members to consistently perform better than when they are alone. As long as the Köhler discrepancy is low, the task is conjunctive and the group has a manner to view the contribution of individual members, then yes, a group -can- produce more than the sum of each person (i.e. the performance if each member performed the task alone, without any information about others performing the task at the same time or location).

    It is also worth noting that both the Ringelmann and Köhler effects were described with regards to purely physical tasks, over 75 years ago. Their relevance in more complex and more intellectual tasks is highly disputed, in particular ones where solutions and methods to achieve solutions are non-obvious or novel. For instance, solving simple mazes exhibits social loafing (decreased performance relative to individuals), but as the maze's complexity increases, social loafing is eliminated, and group performance increases as they grow larger! This is of course a very "basic" cognitive task, but already illustrates that groups -do- out-perform individuals in correct conditions.

    Yes, lots of MBAs or MBA-lights don't understand what they're talking about, but some people are actually interested in the concepts that are brought to light during such courses and go read about them, rather than just relying on the buzz-words and five minute discussion before the next subject arises.
  • by eulernet ( 1132389 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @09:29AM (#41177529)

    There's a reason that assembly lines are much more efficient than having each individual build each unit from start to finish

    This is indiividual work !
    You split the task into tiny parts, so that people will become specialized in solving their little task.
    The more separate the tasks, the more efficient your process can be.
    But you don't produce more than the sum of individuals.

  • by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @10:55AM (#41178409)

    You made the same mistake MBA guy cited in his post. Synergy is not about motivation, it's about the whole is better than the parts. A group indeed can be better than the individual, if synergy is present, whereas each member of the group contributes a particular piece of expertise or skill that the others don't have. I know the stereo-typical slashdot developer type thinks they are the best at everything, but part of being good is knowing what you don't know and depending on others for that part.

    Of course just slapping a bunch of diversely skilled people together won't automatically ensure synergy.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Thursday August 30, 2012 @11:31AM (#41178871) Homepage Journal

    No,the GP's talking about something different than having a bunch of fungible people pull on a rope.

    Suppose some designers want a device to be sleek and lightweight. The engineers naturally choose plastic, but the designers are displeased -- the prototype feels cheap and flimsy. This is nonsense to the engineers: the numbers say the design is rugged and light, and numbers don't lie. They think the designers want the impossible: for the product to be light and heavy at the same time.

    The reason "synergy" hasn't happened is that people have split into cliques of like-minded people, working at cross purposes to the other group and reinforcing conformity of thinking in their own. If they worked together they'd realize that "feels solid in the hand" is something distinct from "rugged", then produce a device that is lighter than the competition but slightly heavier than it looks.

    This is "synergy" in the sense the GP is using it. More commonly, "synergy" means to have two or more complementary business areas. This is a real phenomenon which is easier to achieve and natural in small businesses where people tend to have a clearer view of the big picture -- at least until the dis-economies of scale force them to focus on one business area. With a larger businesses it takes planning.

    The problem is that "synergy" scenarios are often poorly thought out. I worked for a small software developer that sold hardware as well, so we could be a "one stop shop" for our clients. Other aspects of the "one stop shop" worked well: training services led to custom software projects which led to products which led to more training. The problem with hardware was that it's a commodity. We had to sell a high precision GPS handhelds at market prices, but margins were small. Our customer base didn't produce enough volume to have specialists, so hardware was a big, unprofitable distraction.

    The problem *isn't* that we have too many buzzwords, it's that we don't have enough critical thinking. "Synergy" is a valid concept, but it takes more than a happy scenario and a label to slap on it to make that scenario happen.

Neutrinos have bad breadth.