A recent Globe and Mail article questioned the over use of the word Innovation and how it is at risk of becoming a meaningless term. You can’t escape the buzz that we need more innovation. People need to be innovative and so do governments, businesses, cities and even countries. There are task forces created to determine how we can become more innovative. Yet the term is so broad that it is almost useless in helping us to take action.
Read a government report on innovation and you see the same suggestions – more people should study science or engineering, put more emphasis on math in schools, reduce taxes, provide more venture funding or more government incentives. The list goes on but you can almost change the author’s name and leave the report the same. Corporate executives talk about the need to become more innovative as if that wasn’t something they should have been doing all along.
Innovation is one of those terms like quality and sustainability that corporate and government leaders like to toss around to make it appears as if they are out there leading the charge. The terms are sufficiently ambiguous that they can’t be called to task for not having delivered since no one actually knows what was being promised.
What we need are businesses that produce products and deliver services that people are willing to buy. They need to sell for more than they cost to deliver without the benefit of subsidies or grants. They have to be able to be competitive against other products and services to make sure that there is constant improvement and people get the best that business can produce. This ongoing drive to serve paying customers and make a profit or provide a social benefit is what innovation is about. Companies that do this on a consistent basis are the innovative ones not the ones that just talk about it.